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What is prediabetes?

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There is a lot of discussion about prediabetes – what it is, is it a disease at all and what should people do about it.

In this article we will give some facts about it.

We’re interested in Type 2 Diabetes and prediabetes because obesity is the single biggest risk factor for developing Diabetes.

Symptoms of diabetes

Most people will speak to their GP when they begin to experience symptoms. These symptoms might include blurred vision, frequent urinating, dry mouth, etc. There are several and you can see these listed on the NHS website. If your GP suspects you have Diabetes, they are likely to organise a blood test.

Blood testing for Diabetes/prediabetes

Diabetes is diagnosed by measuring sugar concentration in the blood. This is usually done by a blood test. Typically two types of blood test are used, either a glucose concentration test or a haemaglobin (HbA1C) test.

These tests will return results that are compared to the ‘norm’. We won’t spend time here going into the measures themselves other than to say there is a range of results that are regarded as normal and a level above which Diabetes is confirmed. In between these two is a range of results that are above normal but below the level for a Diabetes diagnosis. This is what has become known as ‘prediabetes’.

A good way to view this is the same way you would your BMI. If you have a BMI between 22 and 26, it is regarded as the healthy range. If you have a BMI above 30, you are clinically obese. If you have a BMI between 26 and 30 you could be described as being ‘pre-obese’. Essentially it means that you are in a range that is slightly above the healthy range.

As such, ‘prediabetes’ doesn’t really exist as a disease in itself. Instead it is a blood sugar level above the norm and that puts you at greater risk of developing Diabetes. We know that 30% of people who have blood sugar in the ‘prediabetes’ range will go on to develop Type 2 Diabetes within 5 years. That also means that the majority of people will not.

It would probably be better if we referred to this as raised blood sugar rather than prediabetes. By calling it prediabetes it can cause undue alarm and encourage medical treatment where it may not really be necessary.

So, what messages can you take away if you have or think you have raised blood sugar ?

  1. Don’t worry about it unless you are experiencing symptoms. If you are, then see your Doctor as soon as possible
  2. If you have a glucose or haemaglobin testing result that is above the normal range (in the ‘prediabetes’ range), then you may have opportunity to bring it back into the normal range by making changes to your diet or lifestyle.

If you are clinically obese, you have a BMI above 30, your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases, and this risk increases the higher your BMI becomes. You are also at greater risk from Diabetes if you have a family history of it, you are older or inactive and if you are from an ethnic group predisposed to Type 2 Diabetes, this would include South Asian ethnic groups.

Eating a balanced diet and reducing your weight and, ideally, bringing it into the healthy range will significantly reduce the risk of you developing diabetes.

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