Prediabetes

Topic Overview

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a term that is used when you are at risk for type 2 diabetes. It means that your blood sugar is higher than it should be. Most people who get type 2 diabetes have prediabetes first. The good news is that lifestyle changes may help you get your blood sugar back to normal and avoid or delay diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong disease that happens when the pancreas can't make enough insulin and/or the body's tissues can't use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body's cells use sugar (glucose) for energy. It also helps the body store extra sugar in muscle, fat, and liver cells.

Without insulin, the sugar can't get into the cells to do its work. It stays in the blood instead. This can cause high blood sugar levels. A person has diabetes when the blood sugar stays too high too much of the time.

Over time, high blood sugar can cause serious problems with the eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys. High blood sugar also makes a person more likely to get serious illnesses or infections.

What causes prediabetes?

Doctors don't know exactly what causes prediabetes. People who are overweight, aren't physically active, and have a family history of diabetes are more likely to get prediabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes are also more likely to get prediabetes.

What are the symptoms?

Most people with prediabetes don't have any symptoms. But if you have prediabetes, you need to watch for signs of diabetes, such as:

  • Feeling very thirsty.
  • Urinating more often than usual.
  • Feeling very hungry.
  • Having blurred vision.
  • Losing weight without trying.

How is prediabetes diagnosed?

A blood test can tell if you have prediabetes. You have prediabetes if:

  • The results of your hemoglobin A1c test are 5.7% to 6.4%.
  • The results of your fasting blood glucose test are between 100 and 125 milligrams per deciliter.
  • The results of your oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) are 140 to 199 mg/dL (2 hours after the beginning of the test).

How is it treated?

The key to treating prediabetes and preventing type 2 diabetes is getting your blood sugar levels back to a normal range. You can do this by making some lifestyle changes.

  • Watch your weight. If you are overweight, losing just a small amount of weight may help. Reducing fat around your waist is particularly important.
  • Make healthy food choices.
    • Limit how much fat you eat, and try to eat foods that are high in fiber.
    • Try to eat about the same amount of carbohydrate at each meal. This helps keep your blood sugar steady. Carbohydrate affects blood sugar more than other nutrients. It is found in sugar and sweets, grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, and milk and yogurt.
    • Talk to your doctor, a diabetes educator, or a dietitian about an eating plan that will work for you. There are many ways to manage how much and when you eat.
  • Be active. You can do moderate activity, vigorous activity, or both. Bit by bit, increase the amount you do every day. You may want to swim, bike, or do other activities. Walking is an easy way to get exercise.

Making these changes may help delay or prevent diabetes. You may also avoid or delay some of the serious problems that you can get when you have diabetes, such as heart attack, stroke, and heart, eye, nerve, and kidney disease.

Some doctors may use medicine to control blood sugar in people with prediabetes. If your doctor prescribed medicine to help control your blood sugar, take it as prescribed.

Can prediabetes be prevented?

Staying at a healthy weight, eating healthy foods, and getting regular exercise can help prevent prediabetes.

Health Tools Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.

Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.


Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.
  Diabetes: Using a Plate Format to Plan Meals
  Fitness: Adding More Activity to Your Life
  Fitness: Walking for Wellness
  Healthy Eating: Changing Your Eating Habits
  Healthy Eating: Cutting Unhealthy Fats From Your Diet
  Healthy Eating: Overcoming Barriers to Change
  Healthy Eating: Recognizing Your Hunger Signals
  Healthy Eating: Starting a Plan for Change
  High Blood Pressure: Checking Your Blood Pressure at Home

Interactive tools help people determine health risks, ideal weight, target heart rate, and more. Interactive tools are designed to help people determine health risks, ideal weight, target heart rate, and more.
  Interactive Tool: Do Your BMI and Waist Size Increase Your Health Risks?

Cause

Prediabetes occurs when your body isn't able to keep your sugar (glucose) at a normal level in your blood. Your blood sugar is higher than normal, but it's not high enough to be diabetes.

The food you eat turns into sugar, which your body uses for energy. Normally, the pancreas makes insulin, which allows the sugar in blood to get into the body's cells. But when your body can't use insulin the right way, the sugar doesn't move into cells. It stays in your blood instead. This is called insulin resistance.

The buildup of sugar in the blood causes prediabetes. If your blood sugar stays too high for too long, prediabetes can turn into type 2 diabetes.

People who are overweight, aren't physically active, and have a family history of diabetes are more likely to get prediabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes are also more likely to get prediabetes.

Symptoms

Most of the time, prediabetes has no symptoms. But if you have prediabetes, you need to watch for signs of type 2 diabetes, such as:

  • Feeling very thirsty.
  • Urinating more often than usual.
  • Feeling very hungry.
  • Having blurred vision.
  • Losing weight without trying.

What Happens

Prediabetes is a warning sign that you are at risk for getting type 2 diabetes.

When you have prediabetes, you're also at higher risk for eye, nerve, kidney and heart disease, and for stroke. For more information on these complications, see the topic Type 2 Diabetes.

Photo of a man

One Man's Story:

Jerry, 54

When he first found out he had prediabetes, Jerry felt angry and frustrated. His doctor told him to lose weight and get more exercise, or else run the risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

"I thought, 'What's the point? I might still get diabetes.' I felt like I was stuck either way. But it turns out there's a lot you can do."—Jerry

Read more about Jerry.

You can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and related health problems by making healthy lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Watching your weight.
  • Making healthy food choices.
  • Being active.

For more information, see Prevention.

What Increases Your Risk

Risk factors

Things that can increase your chances of prediabetes are called risk factors. Some risk factors you can control, and others you can't.

The risk factors for prediabetes are similar to those for type 2 diabetes. Most people who get type 2 diabetes had prediabetes first. Risk factors include:

  • Being overweight.
  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Family history. If you have a parent, brother, or sister who has type 2 diabetes, you have a greater chance of getting the disease.
  • Age. The risk for getting prediabetes and type 2 diabetes increases with age. But the number of children with type 2 diabetes is increasing. Usually, children who get type 2 diabetes have a family history of the disease, are overweight, and aren't physically active.
  • Race and ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders are at higher risk than whites for type 2 diabetes.
  • History ofgestational diabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes or who have had a baby that weighed more than 9 lb (4 kg) at birth are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Low birth weight. People who weighed less than 5.5 lb (2.5 kg) at birth are more likely to get type 2 diabetes later in life.

Other health problems that put you at risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes include:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a problem in which a woman's hormones are out of balance.
  • Metabolic syndrome. This is a group of health problems that includes having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and too much fat around the waist.
Photo of a woman

One Woman's Story:

Linda, 39

With a family history of type 2 diabetes, Linda says she should have watched her weight more carefully. She wasn't too surprised by her prediabetes diagnosis. But she got motivated right away to do what she could about it.

"I watched my mom inject herself with insulin every day. Sometimes she needed my help. She had the hardest time keeping her blood sugar down and figuring out what to eat. I don't want to go down that road if I can help it."—Linda

Read more about Linda.

Reducing your risk

There are some things you can do to reduce your chances of getting prediabetes:

  • Watch your weight. Being overweight increases your risk for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Your risk also increases if most of your body fat is in your belly area. Losing even 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can reduce your risk.
  • Make healthy food choices. Eating healthy food is one of the best things you can do for your health.
  • Be active. The less you exercise, the greater your risk of getting prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. The more active you are, the more sugar (glucose) your body uses for energy. This keeps the sugar from building up in your blood.

When you have prediabetes, it's important to follow your treatment. This can reduce your risk of prediabetes turning into type 2 diabetes.

For more tips about things you can do to reduce your risk, see Prevention.

When to Call a Doctor

When you have prediabetes, it's important to watch for symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Call your doctor if you notice that you are:

  • Feeling very thirsty a lot of the time.
  • Urinating more often than usual.
  • Feeling very hungry a lot of the time.
  • Having blurred vision.
  • Losing weight without trying.

You may want to talk to your doctor about testing for prediabetes if you are:

  • Overweight and get little or no exercise.
  • Interested in reducing your risk for getting type 2 diabetes.

Exams and Tests

Who should be tested for prediabetes?

If you haven't yet been diagnosed with prediabetes, you may want to talk to your doctor about testing. The American Diabetes Association recommends testing adults for prediabetes, which may lead to type 2 diabetes, if you:1

  • Are age 45 or older.
  • Are younger than 45 and overweight, and you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a family history of type 2 diabetes, or other risk factors.

If the tests are normal, the American Diabetes Association recommends repeat testing at least every 3 years.

A child who weighs too much may develop serious health problems, including type 2 diabetes. For more information about testing children for diabetes, see the topic Type 2 Diabetes in Children.

What tests will you have for prediabetes?

Your doctor will do a medical history, a physical exam, and blood glucose testing to find out if you have prediabetes and are at risk for getting type 2 diabetes.

Blood tests used to identify prediabetes in adults include:

  • Fasting blood glucose test. This test is usually done after you fast overnight for 8 hours.
  • Hemoglobin A1c. This test estimates your blood sugar over the past 2 to 3 months.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). For an OGTT, your blood sugar is measured after fasting and then again 2 hours after you drink a special glucose liquid. This test is not done as often as the fasting glucose test, which is more convenient.

You have prediabetes if:

  • The results of your A1c test are 5.7% to 6.4%. For all of these tests, lower numbers are best.
  • The results of your fasting blood glucose test are 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
  • The results of your OGTT are 140 to 199 mg/dL (2 hours after the beginning of the test).

Phrases such as "a touch of diabetes," "borderline diabetes," and "your sugar is a little high" are unclear. If you hear these phrases, ask your doctor if your blood sugar level is in the prediabetes or diabetes range.

Tests for other health problems

If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, your doctor may also want to:

  • Check your blood pressure.
  • Do a blood test to check your cholesterol levels.
  • Test your blood sugar regularly to check for type 2 diabetes.

Treatment Overview

Your treatment for prediabetes will focus on losing weight, eating healthy foods, and getting active. This is your chance to reverse prediabetes so it doesn't turn into type 2 diabetes. Doing these things will also help you avoid other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke, that are linked to diabetes.

You may also need to take diabetes medicine along with doing these things.

Watch your weight

Most people who have prediabetes are overweight and have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher. To find out your BMI, use the Interactive Tool: Is Your BMI Increasing Your Health Risks?

If you have a BMI of 25 or higher, try to lose 5% to 10% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, aim to lose 10 to 20 pounds.

A healthy weight helps your body use insulin the way it should. Losing weight can also lower insulin resistance in people who have prediabetes. The more you lose, the more you benefit, as long as you do it in a healthy way.

How you do it is up to you. One way to start is by making healthy eating changes that you can keep doing over time. Try reducing the number of calories you eat and drink and adding more activity to your day. For help, see the topic Weight Management.

Photo of a man

One Man's Story:

Jerry, 54

Jerry signed up for a weight-loss program and started a daily food diary to track what and when he ate. He added walks around the neighborhood and visits to the gym to his routine. In 7 months, he dropped 25 pounds—about 10% of his body weight.

"It hasn't been easy. I've had some ups and downs, especially over the holidays. Hey, I love to eat. Sometimes it's hard to stay focused. But tracking what, when, and why I eat helps me to eat less."—Jerry

Read more about Jerry.

Make healthy food choices

Eating a balanced diet is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your health. Try to:

  • Limit the amount of unhealthy fat you eat, such as saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • Cut calories.
  • Limit sweets.

For help, see the topic Healthy Eating.

Get active

The more active you are, the more sugar (glucose) your body uses for energy. This keeps the sugar from building up in your blood. Exercise can also improve insulin resistance.

Try to do moderate activity at least 2½ hours a week. Or try to do vigorous activity at least 1¼ hours a week. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.

Moderate activity is safe for most people, but it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program. For more help, see the topic Fitness.

Photo of a woman

One Woman's Story:

Linda, 39

Linda works full-time, has three young children, and has zero time for the gym. So when she learned she had prediabetes, she had to find creative ways to fit activity into her day. For example, after dinner she turns up the stereo and does dance moves while washing dishes, putting food away, and cleaning the kitchen.

"It takes about a half-hour and is a great workout. My kids get a big kick out of it too."—Linda

Read more about Linda.

Take medicine if you need to

You may need to take an oral medicine, such as metformin. It reduces the amount of sugar made by the liver in people who are insulin resistant.

If you do need medicine, be sure to take it as directed.

If you smoke, quit

Quitting smoking might help you reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease and also might help you avoid other health problems that make diabetes worse. Quitting can also reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.

Watch blood pressure and cholesterol levels

When you have prediabetes, you are more likely to get heart disease than someone who has normal blood sugar levels. Your risk of having heart disease is even higher if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. That is why it's important to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control.

Prevention

Even if you have risk factors for prediabetes, you can still take steps to prevent the disease. And if you already have prediabetes, these same steps can keep it from turning into type 2 diabetes.

Your risk for prediabetes is higher if you are overweight and physically inactive. So:

Setting a Goal to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Prediabetes is a warning sign that you are at risk for type 2 diabetes. But you can make the healthy changes needed to prevent it.

Losing weight, getting active, and eating better are all important changes you can make for your health. These are the best things you can do to prevent prediabetes or to stop it from turning into type 2 diabetes. Three steps can help you get started.

1. Know your reason. Before you set a goal, think about why you want to make a change. If your reason comes from you—and not from someone else—it will be easier for you to make a healthy change for good.

Maybe you want to avoid the hassles that come with type 2 diabetes, such as taking insulin or testing blood sugar. Or maybe you are worried about the health problems diabetes brings. You might simply want to enjoy your life and have more energy. Your reason for wanting to change is important.

2. Set long-term and short-term goals. Start by setting a big, or long-term, goal. Maybe you want to lose 10% of your body weight to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. If you weigh 200 pounds, that means losing 20 pounds. Break down your big goal into smaller, short-term goals. These are the steps you'll take to reach your big goal.

Do what works best for you. It's important to set goals you can reach. For example:

  • Week 1: Set a goal to walk for 15 minutes, 5 days a week.
  • Week 2: Continue to walk for 15 minutes, 5 days a week. And this week, when you reach for a snack, make it carrots or celery sticks instead of potato chips or crackers.
  • Week 3: Keep up your walking program and eating healthy snacks. Gradually increase walking to 30 minutes for at least 5 days each week. Pay attention to your hunger levels when you eat meals. Stop eating when you feel full.

3. Prepare for slip-ups and barriers. Plan for setbacks. Use a personal action plan(What is a PDF document?) to write down your goals, any possible barriers, and your ideas for getting past them. By thinking about these barriers now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with them if they happen.

Tips for staying on track

  • Get support. Tell family and friends your reasons for wanting to change. Tell them that their encouragement makes a big difference to you in your goal to prevent type 2 diabetes. Your doctor or a professional counselor can also provide support.
  • Pat yourself on the back. Don't forget to give yourself some positive feedback. If you slip up, don't waste energy feeling bad about yourself. Instead, think about how much closer you are to reaching your goal than when you started.

Medications

Your doctor may prescribe metformin (Glucophage). If you need medicine, your doctor is most likely to prescribe this one. Metformin reduces how much glucose the liver makes. It can also lower insulin resistance.

Talk with your doctor to find out if you need medicine in addition to lifestyle changes to lower your insulin resistance.

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

American Diabetes Association (ADA)
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA  22311
Phone: 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383)
Email: AskADA@diabetes.org
Web Address: www.diabetes.org
 

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is a national organization for health professionals and consumers. Almost every state has a local office. ADA sets the standards for the care of people with diabetes. Its focus is on research for the prevention and treatment of all types of diabetes. ADA provides patient and professional education mainly through its publications, which include the monthly magazine Diabetes Forecast, books, brochures, cookbooks and meal planning guides, and pamphlets. ADA also provides information for parents about caring for a child with diabetes.


American Heart Association (AHA)
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX  75231
Phone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)
Web Address: www.heart.org
 

Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA  30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
Email: cdcinfo@cdc.gov
Web Address: www.cdc.gov
 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC works with state and local health officials and the public to achieve better health for all people. The CDC creates the expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health—by promoting health, preventing disease, injury, and disability, and being prepared for new health threats.


National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP)
1 Diabetes Way
Bethesda, MD  20814-9692
Phone: 1-800-438-5383 to order materials
(301) 496-3583
Email: ndep@mail.nih.gov
Web Address: http://ndep.nih.gov
 

The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) is sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The program's goal is to improve the treatment of people who have diabetes, to promote early diagnosis, and to prevent the development of diabetes. Information about the program can be found on two Web sites: one managed by NIH (http://ndep.nih.gov) and the other by CDC (www.cdc.gov/team-ndep).


National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC)
1 Information Way
Bethesda, MD  20892-3560
Phone: 1-800-860-8747
Fax: (703) 738-4929
TDD: 1-866-569-1162 toll-free
Email: ndic@info.niddk.nih.gov
Web Address: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov
 

This clearinghouse provides information about research and clinical trials supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. This service is provided by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


References

Citations

  1. American Diabetes Association (2013). Standards of medical care in diabetes—2013. Diabetes Care, 36(Suppl 1): S11–S66.

Other Works Consulted

  • Buse JB (2011). Type 2 diabetes mellitus. In S Melmed et al., eds., Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, 12th ed., pp. 1371–1435. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • McCall AL (2011). Diabetes mellitus in adults. In ET Bope et al., eds., Conn's Current Therapy 2011, pp. 589–597. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Riddle MC, Genuth S (2010). Type 2 diabetes mellitus. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 9, chap. 2. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
Last Revised June 20, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.