Prediabetes: What It Is and How to Reverse It

Medically Reviewed by Carolin Schneider, MD

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Prediabetes is a health condition that happens before you develop type 2 diabetes. It means that your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not yet high enough for your doctor to diagnose diabetes. Think of it as a wakeup call — a chance to make a change and prevent your blood sugar problems from getting worse.

More than 1 in 3 American adults has prediabetes — but because prediabetes has no symptoms, most of these people don’t know they have it. And unfortunately, most people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The good news is that your doctor can diagnose prediabetes with a blood test. And simple lifestyle changes — like walking more and eating healthier — can stop prediabetes from turning into diabetes. Learn about prediabetes and how you can take steps to protect your health.

What Are the Warning Signs of Prediabetes? Am I at Risk?

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Prediabetes has no noticeable symptoms — so the only way to find out you have it is to see your doctor for a screening test. Experts recommend getting screened for prediabetes if you’re overweight and between the ages of 35 to 70.

You may be at higher risk for prediabetes if you:

  • Are age 35 or older
  • Are overweight
  • Don’t get enough physical activity
  • Have a parent or sibling who has diabetes
  • Have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or gave birth to a baby over 9 pounds
  • Are African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino or Pacific Islander

How Will My Doctor Diagnose Prediabetes?

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Your doctor can check for prediabetes and diabetes with a simple blood test — and most insurance plans will cover this test if you’re overweight and between ages 35 to 70.

There are three main tests used to measure the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood and diagnose prediabetes:

  • Fasting blood glucose test measures your blood sugar after you fast (don’t eat) overnight.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test measures your blood sugar after you drink a sugary liquid.
  • A1C test measures your average blood sugar over the previous three months.

How to Reverse Prediabetes with Lifestyle Changes

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If you’ve recently been diagnosed with prediabetes, now’s the time to make a change. Healthy lifestyle changes have been proven to lower the risk of developing diabetes — even in people at high risk. Follow these tips:

  • Eat healthier. A healthy diet can lower your risk for diabetes. Try choosing foods with less saturated fat, added sugar and sodium (salt) — and eating more fruits and veggies, whole grains, fiber and lean proteins.
  • Be more active. Aim for about 30 minutes of activity, five days a week. And you don’t have to join a gym to get active — walking is a great way to get more physical activity.
  • Try to lose a little bit of weight. Evidence shows that losing five to seven percent of your bodyweight can lower your risk of diabetes. So if you weigh 200 pounds, losing 10 pounds could make a big difference. Talk with your doctor about healthy ways to lose weight.
  • Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can affect your blood sugar. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night — experts usually recommend seven to nine hours a night for most adults.

As you’re making these healthy lifestyle changes, make sure to keep getting your blood sugar checked regularly. Talk with your doctor every three to six months about your risk for diabetes. Your doctor can keep an eye on your blood sugar levels and help you make a plan to improve your health and prevent diabetes.

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