Prediabetes? Is it for real? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Govt., says “prediabetes means your blood glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal—but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.” Blood glucose (sugar) levels are one the symptoms of prediabetes that people ignore.
What Is It?
The American Diabetes Association classifies anyone with fasting blood sugar between 100-126 mg/DL or the equivalent of HbA1c between 5.7-6.4% as having prediabetes. Those with fasting blood sugar above 126 mg/DL or HbA1c 6.5% are said to have diabetes.
Most of us think – we’re fine, going about our business, like normal. Then we visit the doc; either just for a regular physical or because we feel we’re using the washroom a lot more than before, so let’s figure out what’s happening. He/she orders some tests, the results arrive with a red mark against the blood sugar number and boom – we now have diabetes!
That’s not quite how it all happens.
Elevated levels of insulin and blood sugar cause diabetes damage to you body for years before you’re actually labelled “diabetic”. That period, often lasting years, is called prediabetes.
The mechanism through which elevated sugar and insulin levels harm your body is being better understood each day. The sooner we are able to catch the symptoms, the sooner we can prevent full blown diabetes from harming us.
Is Prediabetes A Cause for Major Worry?
A CDC report in 2014 found that 86 million Americans had prediabetes and if they did not make diet and lifestyle changes, 15-20% of them would end up diabetic within the next 5 years.
Alarmingly, diabetes is not the only danger awaiting those with prediabetes. Ongoing research shows that several other serious health problems come in tow, and these are called complications of diabetes.
One study found that the elevated insulin and sugar damage during the prediabetes period can increase your risk of various cancers by almost 15%!
In another study of 2000 men, conducted over a long 22-year period, it was found that having a fasting blood sugar in excess of just 85mg/DL increased the risk of dying from cardiac diseases by a whopping 40%!
This is because when there is too much insulin in the body, it is accompanied by an increase in IGF (Insulin-like Growth Factor), a hormone that is critical for proper growth and death of all cells. Too much IGF can lead to tumors and cancer.
That’s why we need to take prediabetes seriously.
Symptoms of Prediabetes: One Small but Significant Giveaway
So how can you tell if you already have prediabetes? The skin on the back of your neck, armpits, knuckles and groin may present the first symptom of prediabetes. If it has darkened more than other parts of your body (a symptom called acanthosis nigricans), it could be a sign of insulin resistance and prediabetes. Other areas to be examined include armpits, knees, elbows and knuckles.
Other Symptoms of More Advanced Prediabetes
These symptoms could mean that your prediabetes has progressed and that you are closer to being diagnosed with diabetes:
- Unexplained Fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Irregular or Painful periods associated with Polycystic Ovarian Disease or PCOD
The Lab Tests: Being Sure About The Signs And Symptoms of Prediabetes
While “fasting blood glucose” was used as the diagnostic criteria for a long time, it is now viewed as being less reliable than the HbA1c test for the first diagnosis of diabetes and prediabetes.
The HbA1c test measures how much sugar is “coating” your red blood cells and is believed to give a more accurate picture, since it represents a 6-week average of your blood sugar.
The American Diabetes Association classifies anyone with HbA1c between 5.7-6.4% as having prediabetes (equivalent of 100-126 mg/DL) and anyone with HbA1c above 6.5% as having diabetes.
However, there are several practitioners who believe that given all the damage that high blood sugar can do, the HbA1c target for anyone wanting to avoid prediabetes should be even lower (closer to 5%).
These practitioners recommend using a more elaborate version of the post-meal blood glucose blood test as the screening test for prediabetes. If you have tested high risk on the “Prediabetes: Am I at risk?” questionnaire, you may want to consider this method of testing, right at home.