How to Stop Prediabetes from Turning into Diabetes

Prediabetes is an early warning sign that you may be headed towards full-blown type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes means you have a higher than normal blood sugar (glucose), but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes.

While prediabetes may put you at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, lifestyle changes can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems.

Man getting weighed by doctor
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Signs and Risk Factors for Prediabetes

You can have prediabetes for years but have no clear symptoms, so it often goes undetected until serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes show up. About 88 million (approximately 1 in 3) adults in the United States live with prediabetes, but as many as 85% of people with the disease are unaware of it.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that most adults begin diabetes screening at the age of 45. If you are younger than 45 but have excessive belly fat or live a sedentary lifestyle you may want to assess your diabetes risk.

If you or a loved one is concerned about prediabetes take a CDC risk assessment. The test takes about one minute and allows you to print a copy of your results so you can review the results with your doctor. 

The risk factors for diabetes include: 

  • Being overweight (having a body mass index—BMI—over 25)
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Age of 45 years or older
  • A family history of type 2 diabetes, especially a parent, brother, or sister with the disease
  • Being physically active fewer than three times a week
  • A history of diabetes during pregnancy, also known as gestational diabetes, or giving birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

While it is unclear the exact role that race and ethnicity play in prediabetes research has shown that African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk.

Get Started Now

The first step in preventing the progression of prediabetes is to lead a healthy lifestyle. The sooner you implement lifestyle changes the more you increase your chances of staving off diabetes.

Even prior to getting a formal diagnosis, it is important for any person with the above risk factors to take a CDC risk assessment and adopt healthy lifestyle changes including weight loss, moderate-intensity exercise, and eating a balanced diet consisting of fruits and vegetables.

Prediabetes means your body is not producing enough insulin or the insulin does not work properly. What makes prediabetes different from diabetes is that the sugar that has built up in your blood has not yet caused severe organ damage, a major outcome of type 2 diabetes.

Losing Excess Weight

Losing weight can decrease insulin resistance, allowing the body to better utilize the hormone. Research has shown that losing a small amount of weight can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. A small amount of weight loss means around 5% to 7% of your body weight or just 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person.

Boosting Physical Activity

Regular physical activity means getting at least 150 minutes a week of brisk walking or a similar activity. Biking, running, swimming, and hiking are highly recommended activities. Most healthcare professionals suggest 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise—that means enough to break a sweat—five days a week.

Get Tested

Once lifestyle changes are implemented you should see your doctor. A simple blood test is used to diagnose prediabetes. The most popular, comprehensive, and accurate test is the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test.

A1C Test

An A1C test measures your average blood sugar over the past 90 days. It does so by measuring the percentage of blood sugar, or glycated hemoglobin, in the blood. The more sugar is attached to the blood, the higher your A1C:

  • An A1C level below 5.7% is considered normal
  • An A1C level between 5.7% and 6.4% is considered prediabetes
  • An A1C level of 6.5% or higher on two separate tests indicates type 2 diabetes

It is important to note that the hemoglobin A1C test is not perfect. Certain conditions like pregnancy and some blood disorders can lead to inaccurate test results. 

Want to better understand what your test results mean? Start by inputting your results into our A1C test analyzer below. It can help you see what your values may mean for your health so you can follow up appropriately with your doctor.

Fasting Plasma Glucose Test

A second blood test used to diagnose prediabetes is a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test. This is normally the first test doctors use because it renders immediate results. A blood sample is taken after you fast for at least eight hours or overnight. The interpretation includes:

  • A fasting plasma glucose level below 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is considered normal.
  • A fasting plasma glucose level from 100 to 125 mg/dL is considered prediabetes. This result is sometimes called impaired fasting glucose.
  • A fasting plasma glucose level of 126 mg/dL or higher indicates type 2 diabetes.

An oral glucose tolerance test or a random blood sugar test are also sometimes, but less commonly, used to diagnose prediabetes.

Certain medications can affect your blood sugar levels. Before your test, tell your doctor all the medications that you’re using, including herbal, prescription, and over-the-counter medications.

After Diagnosis With Prediabetes

If you are diagnosed with prediabetes following tips from the CDC-led National Diabetes Prevention Program can help you make lifestyle changes that stick. The program has helped people lover their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by nearly 60% (and over 70% for those over the age of 60).

By working with a trained coach to make realistic goals; discovering healthy food alternatives and personalized exercise routines; finding ways to manage stress and track progress; and joining support groups with similar goals and challenges, the NDPP sets you up for success in adopting lasting lifestyle changes.

Contact a health professional immediately if you are feeling general symptoms of diabetes including:

  • Increased hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Poor wound healing

High blood sugars over a long period of time can damage organs throughout the body. The longer you wait the greater the risk of severe complications.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Diabetes Association. Prediabetes.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes - your chance to prevent type 2 diabetes. Updated June 11, 2020.

  3. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Hemoglobin A1c. Lab Tests Online. Updated January 31, 2020.

  4. American Diabetes Association. Diabetes overview: Diagnosis.