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You’ve Been Diagnosed with Prediabetes – Now What?

Colleen Magnani, RDN, CDCES

Published in Health & Wellness

9 min read

August 9, 2021
May 23, 2023
someone checking their blood sugar levels with a bgm
someone checking their blood sugar levels with a bgm

Prediabetes is a condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. According to the CDC, approximately 96 million American adults, (more than one in three) have prediabetes.

Of those with prediabetes, more than 80 percent don’t know they have it. If you've recently been diagnosed with prediabetes, you may be wondering what steps you can take to prevent the condition from progressing into type 2 diabetes.

In this article, we’ll go into detail on what a prediabetes diagnosis means and what you can do to support your health. Read on to learn more. 

What Is Prediabetes?

a list of warning signs of prediabetes

Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), prediabetes occurs when fasting blood glucose levels are between 100-125 mg/dL or A1C levels are between 5.7 and 6.4 percent.

Prediabetes can have significant effects on your life. If left untreated, it can progress to type 2 diabetes, which can cause complications such as nerve damage, kidney damage, and vision loss. 

Additionally, people with prediabetes are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke. Symptoms of prediabetes can be subtle and may not be noticeable at first, and many people may not experience any symptoms at all. 

This condition can only be diagnosed by a doctor through blood sugar level testing. However, there are certain warning signs that prediabetes had progressed to type 2 diabetes, and these include:

  • Increased hunger or thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Frequent infections or slow-healing sores
  • Unintended weight loss

Living with prediabetes may require making significant lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthier diet and increasing physical activity. These changes can help manage the condition and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes can be reversed in some cases with lifestyle changes and drug interventions, but it is important to work with a healthcare provider to create a personalized treatment plan.

Who is at Risk for Prediabetes?

risk factors for prediabetes list

While anyone can develop prediabetes, there are certain people who may be at higher risk. Risk factors for prediabetes include:

  • Being 45 years or older
  • Being obese or overweight
  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle or being physically active less than 3 times a week
  • A history of gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby who weighs over nine pounds
  • Being African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, or Alaskan Native. Some Pacific Islander and Asian American people are also at higher risk. 

It is important to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that a person will develop prediabetes. However, being aware of these risk factors and making healthy lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of developing prediabetes and other health problems.

If you have any concerns about your risk of developing prediabetes, talk to your healthcare provider.

What Happens if You’re Diagnosed with Prediabetes

someone monitoring their blood sugar with a bgm

A diagnosis of prediabetes means that your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. This diagnosis is an important warning sign that you may be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other health problems. 

Prediabetes is diagnosed through blood tests, which may include A1C tests, fasting blood sugar tests, or oral glucose tests. These tests should only be conducted in health-care settings, by qualified healthcare professionals. 

It is estimated that up to 70 percent of people with prediabetes will eventually develop type 2 diabetes if they do not take steps to manage the condition. If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, your doctor will explain treatment options and lifestyle changes that may help you manage your condition.

Some studies show that it is possible to reverse prediabetes with lifestyle changes, such as improving your eating habits, increasing physical activity, losing weight, and quitting smoking.

If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, talk to your healthcare provider about how to manage your condition and reduce your risk of developing complications.

7 Tips for Dealing with a Prediabetes Diagnosis

a list of things to do if diagnosed with prediabetes

Being diagnosed with a health condition can be an emotional time. The good news is that there are many things you can do to support your health and prevent prediabetes from progressing to a diagnosis of diabetes.

Here are some tips for dealing with a prediabetes diagnosis and taking control of your health:

1) Educate Yourself About the Causes of This Condition 

Educating yourself about the causes of prediabetes is an important step in understanding the condition and reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Your healthcare provider can provide you with information about prediabetes and its causes.

There are also many reputable sources of information on prediabetes available online. Look for resources from organizations such as:

2) Start a Weight Loss Journey

an older woman meditating in the park

Starting a weight loss journey can be effective when it comes to prediabetes. Not everyone who is diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes will be overweight, but it is a common risk factor for both conditions.

If you are currently overweight, even a small amount of weight loss, equal to five to seven percent of your body weight, can significantly reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve blood sugar control in people with prediabetes. 

For more information on weight management and weight loss, read our article on weight loss for beginners

3) Stop Smoking

If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, stopping smoking is an important step in managing your condition and reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Smokers have a 30 to 40 percent greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

When you stop smoking, you may actually improve your body’s use of insulin, which can have a positive effect on your blood sugar levels. Quitting smoking can also benefit your overall health, improve your quality of life, and reduce your risk of developing other chronic diseases such as cancer, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease.

4) Keep it Moving

Exercise can be a powerful tool when it comes to prediabetes. Regular exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity and glucose control, and can also help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, which is important for managing prediabetes. 

Exercise is good for your heart and can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which is a common complication of prediabetes. However, it is also important to note that more exercise does not necessarily equate to better metabolic health

In fact, over-exercising may have similar detrimental effects on your health to a sedentary lifestyle. Everyone’s body is different with different capabilities. Talk to your doctor to better understand how much exercise is appropriate to manage your prediabetes. 

5) Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

a nourish bowl with chicken, veggies, and rice

Following a diet high in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, and unhealthy fats can contribute to insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes. Instead, try to practice healthy eating with a nutrient-rich diet

This usually includes things like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats that can help support healthy blood sugar levels and prevent the progression of prediabetes to diabetes. 

6) Reduce Stress

Stress can have a significant impact on prediabetes and blood sugar levels. Chronic stress has been shown to contribute to insulin resistance and the development of prediabetes and diabetes.

Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing, can help improve glucose control and prevent the progression of these conditions.

7) Follow the Recommended Treatment Regimen from your Doctor

Following the recommended treatment regimen or lifestyle change program from your doctor is important for preventing the progression to type 2 diabetes. Your treatment may include dietary changes, exercise, and/or medication to help regulate blood sugar levels.

Top Exercises for Prediabetes

a man riding a bike outside

Exercise is an important part of managing prediabetes as it can help improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, and promote weight loss. Here are some top exercises for prediabetes:

  • Aerobic exercise: Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is any activity that gets your heart rate up and increases your breathing. This can include activities such as brisk walking, hiking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week.
  • Strength training: Strength training, also known as resistance training, involves using weights or resistance bands to build muscle. This can help improve insulin sensitivity and promote weight loss. Aim for at least two sessions per week of moderate- or high-intensity strength training that targets all major muscle groups.
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT): HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercise. This can help improve insulin sensitivity and burn more calories in a shorter amount of time, and research shows HIIT can be beneficial for people with prediabetes or diabetes. However, it may not be suitable for everyone, so talk to your healthcare provider before starting.

Remember to start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise to avoid injury or overexertion. Always consult with your healthcare provider for guidance before starting any new exercise program.

The Glycemic Index and Prediabetes

a variety of colorful veggies

How your diet affects your blood sugar is very important to keep in mind if you have prediabetes. When you eat, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose during digestion, and the glycemic index ranks how quickly this glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream.

Foods with a high glycemic index are rapidly absorbed and cause a sharp rise in blood sugar levels, while foods with a low glycemic index are absorbed more slowly and cause a slower, more gradual rise in blood sugar levels.

A food’s glycemic load, which takes into account portion sizes and the amount of a food you are likely to eat, also plays a role in how food affects blood sugar. Research shows that following a low-glycemic load diet may help prevent the progression of prediabetes to type 2 diabetes.

However, it's important to note that the glycemic index is just one factor to consider when making dietary choices. Portion size, total carbohydrate content, and the presence of other nutrients such as fiber, protein, and fat also affect how a food affects blood sugar levels. And remember that moderation is key: all foods can be part of a healthy diet in moderation. 

Glucose-Friendly Meals for Prediabetes

If you’re in need of some glucose-friendly meal ideas that won’t spike your blood sugar, check out our article on a healthy diet plan for prediabetes.

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Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewed by: Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.

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