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Managing prediabetes

What is prediabetes and what can you do about it?

Stacks of sugar cubes

The term “prediabetes” may sound distressing. The name seems to imply that a diagnosis of diabetes is looming on the horizon. But that’s not necessarily the case.

On the contrary: if you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, now is the time to take action. By managing your health, it’s possible to delay or even prevent the progression to diabetes.

Having prediabetes means that your blood glucose level – or the amount of sugar in your blood – is elevated, but it’s not high enough to meet the definition of diabetes. However, it is a significant risk factor for developing diabetes.

“We know that not everyone who is diagnosed with this will go on to get diabetes, but we know that the risk substantially goes up once you have this diagnosis,” says Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, an endocrinologist and the director of endocrinology at Women’s College Hospital.

Fortunately, there is a lot that someone with prediabetes can do to delay or prevent the progression to diabetes.

“By making changes to their lifestyle – including increasing their physical activity and improving their diet – they can actually reduce their risk of diabetes by up to 60 percent,” Dr. Lipscombe says.

Weight loss is a key factor because being overweight – especially around the abdomen – is the biggest risk factor for progressing from prediabetes to diabetes.

However, weight loss does not need to be extreme to make a difference in health. Dr. Lipscombe explains that a modest weight loss of 10 percent of body weight has been shown to provide benefits. That means that a woman weighing 200 pounds could gain health benefits from losing 20 pounds – an achievable goal.

While weight management is important, other factors also play a role.

“It’s not just about weight loss,” Dr. Lipscombe says. “It’s also about improving your metabolic health by increasing your physical fitness and reducing the intake of unhealthy foods.”

It’s also not just about prediabetes, or even your diabetes risk.

“We can’t forget that there are many, many benefits to making lifestyle changes,” Dr. Lipscombe says. “If you’re diagnosed with prediabetes, it doesn’t just increase your risk of diabetes, but also risk of other things like high blood pressure and heart disease.”

A prediabetes diagnosis is based on blood sugar, but the lifestyle changes you make to lower your chances of developing diabetes also benefit other health indicators. So it goes beyond blood sugar.

“Improving your lifestyle won’t just prevent or delay the progression of diabetes, but can also help improve your blood pressure, your cholesterol level and your future risk of cardiovascular disease or heart attacks,” Dr. Lipscombe explains. “It’s not just about preventing diabetes. It’s also about preventing serious disease, and it can have more wide-reaching effects.”

A diagnosis of prediabetes can be alarming. However, if you use that alarm as a wake-up call for managing your health, it can be an opportunity to make significant improvements in your long-term health.

This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: November 1, 2019

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