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What is prediabetes?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Prediabetes is a condition that causes higher blood glucose levels than normal. It’s estimated that 59.7 million Americans over age 20 suffer with prediabetes and most do not know they are at risk for diabetes. That’s because usually prediabetes has no signs or symptoms until damage is done to internal organs.

In diabetes, there is either too little insulin being produced (type 1 diabetes) or there is a resistance to the existing insulin levels in the blood (type 2 diabetes). Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that facilitates the movement of sugar from the bloodstream into the cells of the body.

Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Prediabetes may be related to too little insulin being produced or decreased response to insulin by the body. People diagnosed with prediabetes have a higher risk of developing diabetes in the future.

Dr. Jack Merendino, MD
Endocrinologist

The term prediabetes refers to someone who has abnormally high blood sugar, but not high enough to meet the diagnosis of diabetes. There are several criteria that apply. A fasting blood sugar (taken first thing in the morning when you have not eaten anything for about 8 to 10 hours) would normally be under 100. To meet the diagnosis of diabetes, you have to be higher than 126. A fasting blood sugar between 100 and 126 would qualify as prediabetes.

Since 2009, the hemoglobin A1c value, a blood test measuring average blood sugar levels and long used to monitor blood sugar control, has been used for the diagnosis of diabetes. A value of greater than 6.5 indicates diabetes, while normal is under about 6. Most people who eventually develop diabetes have blood sugars that rise gradually out of the normal range and into the prediabetes range first. An A1c value between 6 and 6.5 often means a person is making this transition, and most such people would be considered to have prediabetes.

Individuals who lose weight, exercise regularly and are careful about their diet can often prevent or slow the progression of prediabetes to diabetes.

Prediabetes is the state that occurs when a person's blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. About 11 percent of people with prediabetes in the Diabetes Prevention Program standard or control group developed type 2 diabetes each year during the average 3 years of follow-up. Other studies show that many people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes in 10 years.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.