November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and you probably know about some of the health risks associated with diabetes. Diabetes, which refers to blood sugar that’s too high, can lead to problems with your eyes, kidneys, feet, and many other parts of the body. In worst-case scenarios when you have poorly controlled diabetes, the disease can lead to amputation or even death.
However, did you know that before you develop Type 2 diabetes (the type of diabetes often associated with lifestyle), you may experience prediabetes? Prediabetes means that your blood sugar is higher than normal, but there’s still time to make changes before you have diabetes.
Many Americans currently have prediabetes—as many as 84.1 million or 1 in 3 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s in addition to the 100 million in the U.S. who have diabetes.
So, how do you know if you have prediabetes? Unfortunately, there are no telltale symptoms. Sometimes, prediabetes is associated with unexplained weight gain and fatigue, but that’s not always the case. The only real way to know is by seeing your doctor for lab tests. The tests a doctor might do include hemoglobin A1c, which measures your blood sugar average over the past 2 or 3 months. Another common test is called an oral glucose tolerance test.
Getting these lab tests done regularly is important for everyone, but especially if you are at higher risk for diabetes. If you have blood relatives with diabetes, you’re overweight, and you’re over the age of 45, these all can increase your risk. The American Diabetes Association has a risk calculator to help you better determine your risk for diabetes, available here. Taking the test may prompt you to talk to a primary care doctor about getting your blood sugar checked. Your doctor may ask you to repeat your lab work on a regular schedule depending on your risk.
If you find out that you or a loved one has prediabetes, you can take action to slow down your chance of developing diabetes. In fact, life changes such as weight loss and physical activity are actually more effective than taking a pill. Government research found that by doing physical activity 150 minutes a week (about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) and losing just 5% to 7% of your body weight can cut your risk of diabetes by almost 60%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. For instance, if you weigh 200 lbs., that’s a 10- to 14-lb. weight loss.
However, without any effective lifestyle changes, 70% to 85% of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes.
Here are a few more places where you can learn about prediabetes:
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