What is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes—Coming to a Body Near You…

It’s real. It’s common, and, most importantly, it’s reversible. You can prevent or delay prediabetes from developing into type 2 diabetes with simple, proven lifestyle changes.

Amazing but true: approximately 25% of New Zealanders—1 in 4—have prediabetes*. What’s more, most people with prediabetes don’t know they have it. Could this be you? Read on to find out the facts and what you can do to stay healthy.

*    Kirsten J Coppell, Jim I Mann, Sheila M Williams, Emmanuel Jo, Paul L Drury, Jody Miller, Winsome R Parnell; Prevalence of diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes and prediabetes in New Zealand: findings from the 2008/09 Adult Nutrition Survey, NZMJ 1 March 2013, Vol 126 No 1370, downloaded from https://www.nzssd.org.nz/assets/table-files/resources-57-resource_file.pdf

What is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition where the level of sugar in your blood is higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.  The usual way to test if someone has normal blood sugar levels or may have prediabetes/diabetes is a haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test.  It measures the amount of blood sugar (glucose) attached to haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the part of your red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. An HbA1c test shows what the average amount of glucose attached to haemoglobin has been over the past three months. It's a three-month average because that's typically how long a red blood cell lives.  The test results are provided in millimoles per mole (mmol/mol) and the diagram below illustrates what the various results mean.

HbA1c values of 40 and below are “normal”, values from 41 through 49 are classed as “prediabetic”, and values of 50 or more are classed as “diabetic”.

Prediabetes Is a Big Deal

Don’t let the “pre” fool you—prediabetes is a serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as diabetes. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Prediabetes Flies Under the Radar

You can have prediabetes for years but have no clear symptoms, so it often goes undetected until serious health problems show up. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested if you have any of the risk factors for prediabetes, which include:

  • Being overweight.
  • Being 45 years or older.
  • Having a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes.
  • Being physically active less than three times a week.
  • Ever having had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby who weighed more than 4 kilos (9 pounds).

Race and ethnicity are also a factor: Māori, Pacific Islanders and Indo-Asians are at higher risk.

Watch the video below and take the one-minute prediabetes test which will help you identify if you have risk factors indicating that you need to get tested.

Diabetes Is Harder to Live with Than Prediabetes

Though people with prediabetes are already at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, they don’t yet have to manage the serious health problems that come with diabetes.

Diabetes affects every major organ in the body. People with diabetes often develop major complications, such as kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage (nerve damage can lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or leg). Some studies suggest that diabetes doubles the risk of depression, and that risk increases as more diabetes-related health problems develop. All of these can sharply reduce quality of life.

Prediabetes = Preventdiabetes

Think of prediabetes as a fork in the road: Ignore it, and your risk for type 2 diabetes goes up. Lose a modest amount of weight and get regular physical activity, and your risk goes down. Modest weight loss means 5% to 8% of body weight, approximately 5 to 7 kilos for a 90 kilo person. Regular physical activity means getting at least 150 minutes a week of brisk walking or similar activity. That’s just 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

In the event you discover that you have prediabetes, discuss the best course of action with your health practitioner.  While being overweight is a significant issue it is not the only one.  Reducing or reversing prediabetes involves making lasting lifestyle changes such as losing weight, getting regular exercise, eating more healthy foods and reducing or eliminating unhealthy foods, setting attainable goals as well as “stretch” goals and actively tracking progress so that, if things slip, you can take corrective action and get back on track.  Importantly, understand why you are doing this and find compelling reasons to make the changes (feeling better, looking better, being able to be active with your kids).  It doesn’t matter what the reason is as long as it draws you towards the right outcomes.

Most importantly, don’t delay.  The sooner you take action the greater the chances that you can delay or eliminate the onset of type 2 diabetes.