According to the American Diabetes Association, one in three adults has prediabetes. Unfortunately, as many as 85% of those adults don’t even know they are suffering with the condition. Leah Haak-Beck, Registered Dietician Nutritionist at Pullman Regional Hospital Nutrition Therapy department, shares important information about the disease and what you can do to mitigate your risk.
What Is Prediabetes?
Individuals with prediabetes have higher blood sugars than normal, but they're not quite high enough to be considered a diabetes diagnosis. It is really closely related to type-2 diabetes. “Many of the contributing factors are the same, but what's really important to recognize is that if action isn't taken while you have prediabetes, many people will actually go on to develop type-2 diabetes as the disease progresses,” states Haak-Beck.
Risk Factors for Prediabetes
The risk factors for developing prediabetes are very similar, if not exactly the same, as type-2 diabetes. Some of the most common factors include having a larger body size or being overweight, having more fat storage around one’s middle/waist, poor diet, inactivity, and a family history of type-2 diabetes or prediabetes. Risk starts to increase at age 45, so it’s important to start screening then—especially if risk factors are present.
“Some people of color are more likely to develop prediabetes or diabetes. We're not really sure why at this point, but it is something to keep in mind,” adds Haak-Beck. “Also, women who have a history of gestational diabetes or PCOS are more at risk, and then people who smoke or who have obstructive sleep apnea. So, there are actually quite a few risk factors to be watching out for.”
Signs & Symptoms of Prediabetes
Symptoms may be mild or even nonexistent, which is why that 85% “unknown” statistic is in play. Once the individual starts to develop symptoms, it may actually mean the disease has progressed to a type-2 diabetes diagnosis.
Symptoms that some people may experience at the prediabetes state include increased thirst and urination, blurred vision, excessive hunger, or fatigue.
Blood sugar analysis is a fairly standard component of blood labs. If a noticeable increase in blood sugar is detected from one year to the next, further testing is conducted.
“There are different ways your doctor can test. One is called a fasting blood sugar test. Another is called A1C or a glucose tolerance test. I see A1C being used most commonly, as it gives us a picture of what a person's blood sugar has been doing, on average, over about three months. It really gives us some good insights as to what's been going on.”
What are the Treatment Options for Prediabetes?
Prediabetes and type-2 diabetes are both progressive diseases, so it’s critical to arrest the damage as soon as possible. It is possible to lower A1C to a healthy level, but doing so falls primarily on the patient to implement action.
“There are no quick fixes when it comes to prediabetes or preventing diabetes progression. Lifestyle changes are going to be the most important thing that can help, but they must be sustainable. Going on a crash diet or doing crazy exercise for one month is not necessarily going to reverse anything, especially not long-term, because if you go back to old habits or those risk factors you can control, like your diet quality and activity level, those blood sugars could creep back up,” cautions Haak-Beck.
Individuals diagnosed with prediabetes can also halt progression by quitting smoking and keeping their blood pressure and cholesterol in check. It may also be highly beneficial to enlist the help of a registered dietician.
“Nutrition is really tricky and very individualized for each person. There are some ‘blanket’ statements we could make, but I think it's really important to consider that everybody is different and everybody is going to manage their diet or nutrition in a different way. If you do have a prediabetes diagnosis, I would recommend asking for a referral for a dietitian,” urges Haak-Beck. “That way, you have somebody on your team to help you work through what some of these changes will be for you, personally.”
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