By Eileen B. Wyner, NP
Bulfinch Medical Group
What is prediabetes? Does it become diabetes? How is it diagnosed? How can it be treated? Do medications work? I feel like I have more and more patients asking me these questions and with recent statistics stating that over 54 million people in the US have prediabetes, I’m probably right. Prediabetes is a condition where the blood sugar is elevated but not so elevated that it’s diabetes. It typically does not have any symptoms, but there are instances where people might have symptoms of problems commonly associated with diabetes, such as retina changes or neuropathy. Some people may have a change in their skin called acanthosis nigricans. This means that the skin is darker in color in places like the armpit, behind the neck, or on the elbows, knees or knuckles.
Prediabetes is diagnosed with the same blood tests as those used to diagnose diabetes but the result parameters are different. Prediabetes is diagnosed when the A1C is between 5.7% and 6.4%; fasting glucose is between 100mg/dl and 125mg/dl; or when the 2 hour oral glucose tolerance test is between 140mg/dl and 199mg/dl. People that have a positive test are advised to have the test rechecked every 1 to 2 years to monitor for type 2 diabetes.
The cause of prediabetes is not known but it is thought that genetics may play a part and that there is increased insulin resistance. Much like with diabetes, there are established risk factors for the development of prediabetes. These risk factors include: age; positive family history; being of African American, Asian, Pacific Indian, and Hispanic ethnicity; overweight (especially with an increased abdominal girth); being sedentary; and PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). A diagnosis of prediabetes does not mean an automatic progression to type 2 diabetes, but many people will progress to diabetes within 10 years of initial diagnosis.
There are many things that can be done to improve your health and possibly help the blood sugar values revert to normal range. There are some instances where metformin (Glucophage), a medication commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, may be started, but that is an individual decision between the patient and their health care provider. The mainstay of treatment consists of lifestyle changes. For example: eating smaller portions, avoiding sugary beverages and fried foods, and walking most days of the week for 30 minutes at a moderate pace. I always tell my patients that they don’t have to join a gym or run a marathon, but they do have to move a little bit more each day. Remember, walking is the least costly form of exercise and will yield great benefits for your physical and mental health. I hope I have provided answers to your questions and some healthful tips to try and incorporate into your daily life. Now, I think I’ll take my own advice and leave the laptop behind so I can go take a walk in this gorgeous sunshine.