More than 1 in every 3 Tennesseans has prediabetes, yet many people don’t know what that means, or if they’re at risk.
WellTuned talked to Dr. Jennifer Gholson, a BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee medical director, about risk factors, symptoms, and steps everyone can take to improve their health, whether or not they have prediabetes.
1.7 million Tennesseans(36%) are prediabetic
What is prediabetes?
Prediabetes happens when a person’s blood sugar level is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. Without lifestyle changes, 70% of prediabetic people will develop Type 2 diabetes — most within 5-6 years.
If you have Type 2 diabetes, your body is unable to produce or use insulin, a hormone that helps absorb blood sugar (glucose) to be used as energy. If glucose stays in the blood rather than fueling the body’s cells, it eventually damages the vessels that supply blood to vital organs.
How do you know if you’re prediabetic?
Your doctor can tell you by testing your blood. You are considered prediabetic if you have:
- Blood sugar between 100-125 mg/dL
- HgA1C of 5.7-6.4
An HgA1C, or Hemoglobin A1C test, reflects your average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months.
What are the symptoms of prediabetes?
Many people don’t have any, which is why it’s important to get an annual physical exam.
“Not everyone who is prediabetic is overweight, and not everyone has symptoms, so you can’t skip your wellness exam because you appear young and healthy,” says Dr. Gholson. “It’s imperative we catch prediabetes early because once you’re diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you can’t really reverse it. Even if you eventually get your blood sugar under control, we don’t know how much damage can be undone. It’s better not to do that damage in the first place, and the good news is you can reduce many risk factors through simple lifestyle changes.”
Those changes include:
- Getting 150 minutes of physical activity a week
- Keeping your weight in a healthy range
- Eating healthy foods
- Drinking more water and fewer sugary drinks
- Not smoking
Who’s most at risk for prediabetes?
You are at risk if you:
- Are overweight or obese, or if you have a waist larger than 40 inches (men) or 35 inches (women)
- Are over age 45
- Are African American, Native American, Latino or Pacific Islander
- Have a parent or sibling with diabetes
- Don’t exercise
- Have high cholesterol, sleep apnea, gestational diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome
- Drink a lot of sugary drinks
- Eat an excess of red meat and few fruits and vegetables
What can you do if you think you’re at risk?
- Take the quiz
- Make an appointment with your doctor to get tested
What steps should you take if you find out you are prediabetic?
“Lifestyle changes are the most important thing you can do,” says Dr. Gholson.
- Improving your diet
- Increasing your exercise level, and
- Losing weight if you need to.
“In some instances, your physician may decide to put you on medication to help stop the progression of the disease — but that’s not for everybody and it won’t work on its own. Lifestyle changes are something everyone can do right now to make a difference,” Dr. Gholson explains.