Illness & Conditions - Special Health Issues
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes is a term that is used when you are at risk for type 2 diabetes . It means that your blood sugar is higher than it should be. Most people who get type 2 diabetes have prediabetes first. The good news is that lifestyle changes may help you get your blood sugar back to normal and avoid or delay diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong disease that happens when the pancreas can't make enough insulin and/or the body's tissues can't use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body's cells use sugar (glucose) for energy. It also helps the body store extra sugar in muscle, fat, and liver cells.
Without insulin, the sugar can't get into the cells to do its work. It stays in the blood instead. This can cause high blood sugar levels. A person has diabetes when the blood sugar stays too high too much of the time.
Over time, high blood sugar can cause serious problems with the eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys. High blood sugar also makes a person more likely to get serious illnesses or infections.
What causes prediabetes?
Doctors don't know exactly what causes prediabetes. People who are overweight, aren't physically active, and have a family history of diabetes are more likely to get prediabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes are also more likely to get prediabetes.
What are the symptoms?
Most people with prediabetes don't have any symptoms. But if you have prediabetes, you need to watch for signs of diabetes, such as:
How is prediabetes diagnosed?
A blood test can tell if you have prediabetes. You have prediabetes if:
How is it treated?
The key to treating prediabetes and preventing type 2 diabetes is getting your blood sugar levels back to a normal range. You can do this by making some lifestyle changes.
Making these changes may help delay or prevent diabetes. You may also avoid or delay some of the serious problems that you can get when you have diabetes, such as heart attack, stroke, and heart, eye, nerve, and kidney disease.
Some doctors may use medicine to control blood sugar in people with prediabetes. If your doctor prescribed medicine to help control your blood sugar, take it as prescribed.
Can prediabetes be prevented?
Staying at a healthy weight, eating healthy foods, and getting regular exercise can help prevent prediabetes.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Frequently Asked Questions
Prediabetes occurs when your body isn't able to keep your sugar (glucose) at a normal level in your blood. Your blood sugar is higher than normal, but it's not high enough to be diabetes.
The food you eat turns into sugar, which your body uses for energy. Normally, the pancreas makes insulin , which allows the sugar in blood to get into the body's cells. But when your body can't use insulin the right way, the sugar doesn't move into cells. It stays in your blood instead. This is called insulin resistance .
The buildup of sugar in the blood causes prediabetes. If your blood sugar stays too high for too long, prediabetes can turn into type 2 diabetes.
People who are overweight, aren't physically active, and have a family history of diabetes are more likely to get prediabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes are also more likely to get prediabetes.
Most of the time, prediabetes has no symptoms. But if you have prediabetes, you need to watch for signs of type 2 diabetes, such as:
Prediabetes is a warning sign that you are at risk for getting type 2 diabetes.
When you have prediabetes, you're also at higher risk for eye, nerve, kidney and heart disease, and for stroke. For more information on these complications, see the topic Type 2 Diabetes.
You can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and related health problems by making healthy lifestyle changes, such as:
For more information, see Prevention.
What Increases Your Risk
Things that can increase your chances of prediabetes are called risk factors. Some risk factors you can control, and others you can't.
The risk factors for prediabetes are similar to those for type 2 diabetes. Most people who get type 2 diabetes had prediabetes first. Risk factors include:
Other health problems that put you at risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes include:
Reducing your risk
There are some things you can do to reduce your chances of getting prediabetes:
When you have prediabetes, it's important to follow your treatment. This can reduce your risk of prediabetes turning into type 2 diabetes.
For more tips about things you can do to reduce your risk, see Prevention.
When to Call a Doctor
When you have prediabetes, it's important to watch for symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Call your doctor if you notice that you are:
You may want to talk to your doctor about testing for prediabetes if you are:
Exams and Tests
Who should be tested for prediabetes?
If you haven't yet been diagnosed with prediabetes, you may want to talk to your doctor about testing. The American Diabetes Association recommends testing adults for prediabetes, which may lead to type 2 diabetes, if you: 1
If the tests are normal, the American Diabetes Association recommends repeat testing at least every 3 years.
A child who weighs too much may develop serious health problems, including type 2 diabetes. For more information about testing children for diabetes, see the topic Type 2 Diabetes in Children.
What tests will you have for prediabetes?
Your doctor will do a medical history, a physical exam, and blood glucose testing to find out if you have prediabetes and are at risk for getting type 2 diabetes.
Blood tests used to identify prediabetes in adults include:
You have prediabetes if:
Phrases such as "a touch of diabetes," "borderline diabetes," and "your sugar is a little high" are unclear. If you hear these phrases, ask your doctor if your blood sugar level is in the prediabetes or diabetes range.
Tests for other health problems
If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, your doctor may also want to:
Your treatment for prediabetes will focus on losing weight, eating healthy foods, and getting active. This is your chance to reverse prediabetes so it doesn't turn into type 2 diabetes. Doing these things will also help you avoid other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke, that are linked to diabetes.
You may also need to take diabetes medicine along with doing these things.
Watch your weight
Most people who have prediabetes are overweight and have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher. To find out your BMI, use the Interactive Tool: Is Your BMI Increasing Your Health Risks?
If you have a BMI of 25 or higher, try to lose 5% to 10% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, aim to lose 10 to 20 pounds.
A healthy weight helps your body use insulin the way it should. Losing weight can also lower insulin resistance in people who have prediabetes. The more you lose, the more you benefit, as long as you do it in a healthy way.
How you do it is up to you. One way to start is by making healthy eating changes that you can keep doing over time. Try reducing the number of calories you eat and drink and adding more activity to your day. For help, see the topic Weight Management.
Make healthy food choices
Eating a balanced diet is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your health. Try to:
For help, see the topic Healthy Eating.
The more active you are, the more sugar (glucose) your body uses for energy. This keeps the sugar from building up in your blood. Exercise can also improve insulin resistance .
Moderate activity is safe for most people, but it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. For more help, see the topic Fitness.
Take medicine if you need to
If you do need medicine, be sure to take it as directed.
If you smoke, quit
Quitting smoking might help you reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease and also might help you avoid other health problems that make diabetes worse. Quitting can also reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
Watch blood pressure and cholesterol levels
When you have prediabetes, you are more likely to get heart disease than someone who has normal blood sugar levels. Your risk of having heart disease is even higher if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. That is why it's important to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control.
Even if you have risk factors for prediabetes, you can still take steps to prevent the disease. And if you already have prediabetes, these same steps can keep it from turning into type 2 diabetes.
Your risk for prediabetes is higher if you are overweight and physically inactive. So:
Setting a Goal to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Prediabetes is a warning sign that you are at risk for type 2 diabetes. But you can make the healthy changes needed to prevent it.
Losing weight, getting active, and eating better are all important changes you can make for your health. These are the best things you can do to prevent prediabetes or to stop it from turning into type 2 diabetes. Three steps can help you get started.
1. Know your reason. Before you set a goal, think about why you want to make a change. If your reason comes from you—and not from someone else—it will be easier for you to make a healthy change for good.
Maybe you want to avoid the hassles that come with type 2 diabetes, such as taking insulin or testing blood sugar. Or maybe you are worried about the health problems diabetes brings. You might simply want to enjoy your life and have more energy. Your reason for wanting to change is important.
2. Set long-term and short-term goals. Start by setting a big, or long-term, goal. Maybe you want to lose 10% of your body weight to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. If you weigh 200 pounds, that means losing 20 pounds. Break down your big goal into smaller, short-term goals. These are the steps you'll take to reach your big goal.
Do what works best for you. It's important to set goals you can reach. For example:
3. Prepare for slip-ups and barriers. Plan for setbacks. Use a personal action plan (What is a PDF document?) to write down your goals, any possible barriers, and your ideas for getting past them. By thinking about these barriers now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with them if they happen.
Tips for staying on track
Your doctor may prescribe metformin (Glucophage). If you need medicine, your doctor is most likely to prescribe this one. Metformin reduces how much glucose the liver makes. It can also lower insulin resistance.
Talk with your doctor to find out if you need medicine in addition to lifestyle changes to lower your insulin resistance.
Other Places To Get Help
Last Revised: June 20, 2012
American Diabetes Association (2013). Standards of medical care in diabetes—2013. Diabetes Care, 36(Suppl 1): S11–S66.
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.