Diabetes is an ever growing medical issue affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. Prediabetes is a precursor moment before potentially developing diabetes, but what’s it all about, what are the symptoms of prediabetes and how can you reduce your risk of becoming diabetic?
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition where the body is impaired in its ability to produce and manage the hormone insulin, which leads to abnormal carbohydrate metabolism and greater levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood.
Glucose is the main energy source that comes from our food. In order to get the glucose from food and into our cells for energy, the pancreas creates insulin. If there’s not enough insulin being produced or it’s not being responded to properly, as is the case with diabetes, glucose will be unable to reach the cells or be used as energy, and will instead remain in the blood.
If blood glucose is elevated for an extended period of time, other health conditions can develop, such as nerve damage, eye conditions, kidney disease, heart disease and stroke, foot problems, poor wound healing and dental disease. There’s sadly no cure once diabetes has developed, but there are ways to manage it.
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What Are The Types Of Diabetes?
There are a few different types of diabetes. The two main types of diabetes are Type 1 & Type 2. There’s also gestational diabetes and less common forms like cystic fibrosis-related diabetes and monogenic diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is where the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas responsible for creating insulin. Type 1 diabetes can be detected at any age but it’s typically diagnosed early in life, so in children or young adults. Individuals with type 1 need daily insulin to stay alive.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, accounting for 90-95% of adult diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are elevated because the body is unable to use or make insulin adequately. With increasing glucose levels, more insulin is released. This can fatigue the pancreas so it’ll make less insulin, which in turn creates even higher glucose levels. This can develop at any age, including during childhood, but it’s most common in the middle aged and older.
Gestational diabetes can occur in some women during pregnancy. It’s a temporary diabetes that usually rectifies itself after the birth. However, there’s a greater chance of developing Type 2 diabetes in future if you’ve had gestational diabetes.
What Is Prediabetes?
Prediabetes means your blood sugar levels are higher than “normal” but not to the degree that a diagnosis of diabetes is warranted. It suggests you could be at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The term “pre diabetes” can also be known as borderline diabetes, while higher than usual blood sugar levels can also be referred to by different medical terms such as impaired glucose regulation (IGR), impaired fasting glucose (IFG), impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and non-diabetic hyperglycaemia.
Diabetes Risk Factors : What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?
The development of type 2 diabetes is usually slow and typically occurs over the age of 40, though that’s only a guide based on typical cases. There are certain risk factors that can predispose you to developing type 2 diabetes. For instance:
- A familial link – a person with a sibling, parent or child with diabetes is 2x to 6x more likely to develop type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure – an individual with a history of high blood pressure is at greater risk
- Weight – there’s an increased risk with excess weight or obesity, particularly with more weight held around the waist
- Race and age – risk is increased if you’re over 40 and white, of if you’re of South Asian, Black African or African-Caribbean decent
How Many People Have Prediabetes?
It’s estimated that around 13.6 million people in the UK are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Around half of these cases could be delayed or prevented from developing into type 2 diabetes with adequate intervention and support.
What Are The Symptoms Of Diabetes or Prediabetes?
Being pre-diabetic usually comes with no symptoms. Being asymptomatic means it can go unnoticed without a blood test and progress to diabetes without any action being taken to stop it or lessen the risk. If you’re getting symptoms, it could suggest you’re already living with diabetes.
When it comes to diabetes, some diabetics don’t develop noticeable symptoms but many do.
Symptoms of diabetes can include :
- Increased urination, including during the night
- Increased thirst
- Unintentional weight loss
- Thrush or genital itching
- Feeling fatigued as the body can’t get adequate glucose to convert to energy
- Cuts taking longer to heal
- Disturbed or blurred vision
You can learn more about prediabetes on the diabetes.org website.
How Is Prediabetes Diagnosed?
Blood tests can reveal your blood sugar levels and make a diagnosis of diabetes or pre diabetes. Blood sugar levels vary throughout the day and over time, so the most commonly used blood test is the HbA1c. This test tells you what your average blood glucose levels are like over the last two or three months.
The normal range for the HbA1c for non-diabetics is less than 36 mmol/mol. For diabetics, the ideal is 48mmol/mol or less.
If your HbA1c is between 42mmol/mol to 47mmol/mol (pre-diabetes), it suggests your glucose is higher than usual and you’re at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Your doctor may repeat the blood test and then diagnose with pre diabetes if it remains high.
A GP can do a regular blood test via a vein in your arm but a blood glucose monitor can tell you the current level your blood sugar is at. These are used by diabetics but they can be bought over the counter and online for those without diabetes who wish to check or monitor their glucose levels.
You Might Want To Consider …
- At home blood testing is available in the UK with Medichecks. They offer the HbA1c as a finger prick test you can do at home & you can view the results on your online account. Take a look at the blood glucose test here & use the code INVISME10 at the checkout for 10% off your order. For more information, you can find my full post on Medichecks here.
- One blood glucose monitor I’ve used and would recommend is by Sinocare that can be found here.
How Can You Reduce Your Diabetes Risk?
Anyone can benefit from tweaks to their diet and lifestyle for their overall health. It’s all the more important if you’ve discovered you have elevated blood sugar levels or pre-diabetes as these changes could even help to prevent you becoming diabetic.
– Weight Loss –
If you’re carrying extra weight, this could increase your risk of developing diabetes. Studies suggest that weight loss can have significant effects in reducing diabetes risk. One study found that the risk of Type 2 diabetes developing was cut by 60% as a result of losing 7% of body weight. This will of course depend on your starting weight so speak to your doctor about what may suit you and be a reasonable goal to work towards. If you’re a healthy weight at present, you could work to maintain it and focus on any general health and wellness improvements.
– Increase Activity Levels –
Exercise can have a myriad of benefits for our physical and mental wellbeing. Increased activity can reduce diabetic risk by helping you to lose weight, lowering your blood sugar, and increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which in turn helps to keep glucose levels in check. Not everyone will be able to go for a run or join a gym, so any exercise needs to be tailored to your physical abilities, other health health and mobility level. For weight loss or maintenance it’s typically suggested that individuals aim for 30 minutes (or more) of aerobic exercise a day for 5 days a week. This equates to around 150 minutes moderate-vigorous aerobic activity each week. Resistance training and exercises such as yoga, calisthenics and weightlifting are suggested to be done 2 or 3 times a week to boost balance and strength.
– Break Up Periods Of Inactivity –
Longer periods of inactivity are linked to increased risk of health problems and higher blood glucose levels. It’s recommended to take short breaks instead of sitting for extended periods and standing a little more, as this will better manage your blood glucose and blood pressure. So where possible, instead of sitting at a desk, watching TV or working on a computer for an hour or more at a time, break it up every 30 minutes with a few minutes of standing, gentle movements, light activity or walking around.
– Healthy Diet –
A balanced diet is an important element for overall health and it’s likewise important for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Aim for more plant-based foods, lean protein and fibre-rich foods like wholegrain, fruits, vegetables, legumes and lentils. Reduce the more artificial foods high in saturated fats and carbs with little nutritional value, like processed foods, white pasta and bread, pastries. If you eat a lot of refined carbs and potatoes, or drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages, you might want to try more water instead of full-sugar cola, fruit instead of an afternoon chocolate bar, wholegrain rice instead of French fries. Cut down on saturated fat with some more nutritional swaps, like lean chicken instead of beef in a pie, or low-fat yoghurt instead of a syrup pudding. Healthy fats are still very important in our diet but just in moderation, so look for unsaturated options like nuts, seeds, fatty fish, olive oil and sunflower oil.
As always, if you have any concerns or queries about your health and your glucose levels, please speak to your doctor. Consider asking for a blood test if you don’t know what your levels are like as early intervention and small but manageable lifestyle changes might just make all the difference.
Have you ever been diagnosed with prediabetes?
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