What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, but can be prevented.

Three people at a beach during sunset.
Photo: FreeImages.

Much of the food that we eat is broken down into glucose or sugar to be used for energy. Diabetes is a disease that interrupts the breakdown and absorption of that sugar, or glucose, into our cells for energy, not allowing it to enter the cells when it is needed. The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin that works to move the sugar into our cells. A person with diabetes either does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot use its own insulin effectively, which causes the sugar to build up in the blood and can cause many problems. 

There are four different types of diabetes: prediabetes, type 1, type 2 and gestational. This article will talk about prediabetes. Prediabetes has been labeled as borderline diabetes, or even sugar diabetes. Prediabetes occurs when the body becomes more resistant to insulin. In other words, insulin is not able to break down the glucose from the blood efficiently for energy and causes blood sugar levels to rise just enough to be concerned but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis.

People of all ages can develop diabetes and prediabetes, but there are some groups that are at a higher risk for disease. Diabetes and prediabetes are more common among certain populations, including African, Native, and Asian Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and older adults. Other risk factors for prediabetes include being overweight, 45 or older and/or having a family history of diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 88 million American adults that have prediabetes. This is one in three adults, and 84% of those people do not know they have it. That leads to an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and of type 2 diabetes development.

How can you know if you have prediabetes? The only way to truly know is to have a blood test done from your health care provider. There are different blood tests that can determine a diagnosis of prediabetes:

  • The A1C test, which is also known as hemoglobin A1C or HbA1c test, is a blood test measuring the average amount of glucose in the blood over the past three months. A level below 5.7% is normal, and 5.7 to 6.4% indicates prediabetes.
  • The fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) requires an overnight fast from food. The blood glucose is measured in the morning before a person eats or drinks. A level of 99 mg/dL is normal, and 100 to 125 mg/dL indicates prediabetes.
  • The oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) also requires an overnight fast. This test also measures blood sugar levels after drinking a glucose-rich liquid one hour after and two hours after ingestion. A level of 140 mg/dL and below is normal, and 140 to 199 mg/dL indicates prediabetes.

Prediabetes provides a warning to a person that type 2 diabetes could soon follow. The good news is you can take steps to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes by visiting your health care provider and making healthier lifestyle changes which include adjusting eating patterns and including physical activity into your daily routine. For more information on taking charge of your health, visit MSU Extension's Diabetes website.

Did you find this article useful?