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July 2013

Could You Have Prediabetes?

Most people have heard of diabetes - and may even know someone who has it. But what about prediabetes? If you aren't aware of it, you're not the only one. A recent government report found that many Americans aren't familiar with the condition, even those who have it.

Understanding prediabetes

The CDC estimates that nearly 79 million Americans have prediabetes. Yet after analyzing the results of a national health and nutrition survey, the CDC found that only about 11 percent of those people knew they had it-perhaps because the condition usually doesn't cause any symptoms. An even more notable finding: Less than 14 percent of those surveyed had any knowledge at all about prediabetes.

As the word implies, prediabetes is a condition that precedes diabetes. It's also called impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance. A person with prediabetes has higher than normal blood glucose levels. But the levels aren't yet high enough for the person to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Glucose is a type of sugar your body uses for energy. Your body makes glucose as it breaks down food. To absorb glucose, your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. If your body stops using insulin properly, glucose can build up in your blood. This imbalance-known as insulin resistance-may lead to prediabetes, and eventually diabetes.

Experts aren't completely sure how a person develops insulin resistance. But they do know that excess weight and too little physical activity play a pivotal role. In fact, research has shown that losing weight and exercising more can help the body better use insulin.

Testing glucose levels

Experts recommend that all adults ages 45 and older be tested for diabetes. Your doctor may suggest earlier testing if you are overweight and if the following applies to you:

  • A close family member, such as a parent or sister, has diabetes.

  • You are of African-American, American-Indian, Latin-American, or Asian/Pacific Islander descent.

  • Your blood pressure, cholesterol, or triglyceride levels are high.

  • You are a woman who had diabetes while pregnant or who has polycystic ovary syndrome.

Three tests can help determine whether you have prediabetes or diabetes. They are the A1C test, the fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, and the oral glucose tolerance (OGTT) test. All three measure the amount of glucose in your blood.

For many people, the A1C test is a good indicator of blood glucose levels during a previous three-month period. But it may not work well for those with certain conditions, such as sickle cell anemia. The FPG test requires you to fast for at least eight hours before blood is drawn. The OGTT test requires fasting, too. But you must first drink a sweet liquid two hours before giving blood.

If your doctor tells you that you have prediabetes, don't dismiss it. The condition not only raises your risk for diabetes, but it also increases your chances of developing heart disease and stroke. Think of the diagnosis as an opportunity-to live healthier. Being more active every day, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and losing weight, if necessary, can prevent diabetes.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Watch this video to learn more about prediabetes.

Online Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians - Prediabetes

American Diabetes Association - Prediabetes

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse - Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes

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