Let’s start with some sobering statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in three American adults are living with prediabetes, which means their blood sugar levels are higher than normal. And since there are no symptoms, a whopping 80% of those people don’t even know they have it.
“Make no mistake, if you are living with prediabetes, you’re on track to developing type 2 diabetes,” says Elkin Nunez, MD, associate medical director of endocrinology and diabetes at Atlantic Health System. “Diabetes is a cardiovascular disease where high blood glucose (sugar) levels damage the nerves and blood vessels that control your heart, kidneys and brain; this can lead to heart attack and stroke.”
But here’s the good news. If you have high blood sugar and have not yet been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, there’s still time to make a few lifestyle changes that can stave off — and even prevent — the onset of this devastating disease.
“No one wakes up one morning with type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Nunez, “Most people who have diabetes have had prediabetes for about two to eight years prior to their diagnosis. They just didn’t know it because there are no noticeable symptoms.”
Check Your Bloodwork
If you’re curious about your personal risk, you’ll find answers in your lab tests.
“Look at your most recent blood test,” says Dr. Nunez. “If your fasting blood glucose is greater than 100 mg/dl on more than one occasion, you should get an A1C blood test. Your A1C (glycohemoglobin) is a key marker that measures the average amount of glucose in your blood over the last three months.”
Using your A1C, here’s how to tell whether you are within a normal range, a prediabetic range, or if you already have diabetes:
|Normal fasting glucose||< 99 mg/dl||A1C < 5.6%|
|Prediabetes fasting glucose||100-125 mg/dl||A1C 5.7%-6.4%|
|Diabetes fasting glucose||> 126 mg/dl (> 2 occasions)||A1C > 6.5%|
Staying Ahead of the Disease
Blood glucose levels fluctuate based on exercise, stress, meals, hormones, sleep, and medications. Here’s how you can stabilize and even lower your blood glucose levels into a healthy range.
First, it’s important to have a primary care provider who will track your glucose (and, if at risk, your A1C) throughout your lifetime and assess your risk of developing the disease. A glucose monitoring device can also help track blood sugar spikes and dips in real time. Additionally, you’ll need to make some small lifestyle changes that will deliver big health benefits over time.
“For most people, losing 10 to 15 pounds can be enough to start to turn things around,” says Dr. Nunez, who explains that 30 minutes of daily exercise and making healthier food choices will jumpstart any weight loss effort. “Prediabetes doesn’t have to lead to diabetes. Taking the right steps now can slow down the progression of the disease — and possibly even stop it completely.”
Be Proactive About Your Health
To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.