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Prediabetes Signs, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment Guide

Natalie Stein
March 12, 2018
borderline diabetic

What Is Prediabetes?


Prediabetes, also known as borderline diabetes, is a condition in which your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not as high as it would be if you had diabetes

Symptoms are not clear and visible if you have prediabetes. You may even have no symptoms. However, you are at higher risk for developing diabetes. If you get diabetes, you will need to manage it with steps such as taking your blood sugar multiple times a day and using medications, possibly including insulin injections, to prevent complications.

Prediabetes Symptoms

You may notice some symptoms with diabetes. They can include the following. [2]

Still, it is important to know that not only might you not get symptoms with diabetes, but you are unlikely to have symptoms with prediabetes. That is why you should know your risk.

Normal and Blood Glucose (Sugar) Regulation and the Role of Insulin

Many of the foods you eat contain types of carbohydrates called sugars and starches. During the digestive process, your body breaks down sugars and starches from food and turns them into a specific type of sugar called glucose. Glucose goes into the blood stream and your body uses it for energy. Extra glucose, from eating more carbohydrates than you need, is eventually stored as body fat.

Your body needs insulin to properly use glucose when your blood glucose levels rise after a meal. Insulin is produced by the beta cells in your pancreas, and is released into your bloodstream when your blood sugar levels are high. Insulin has three main functions:

  1. Lower blood glucose levels by helping fat, muscle, and liver cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream.
  2. Helps liver and muscles store extra glucose that is not needed at this moment. This storage form of glucose is called glycogen.
  3. Helps lower blood glucose levels by lowering the amount of glucose your liver produces.

Insulin Resistance and Impaired Blood Sugar Control

Insulin resistance is a condition in which your muscle, fat, and liver cells are not as responsive to the actions of insulin. Over time, higher amounts of insulin are necessary to keep blood sugar levels down. Beta cells in your pancreas can increase insulin production for a while to keep up with demand, but they eventually tire out and insulin production is not high enough to keep pace with demand. This is when you can see blood sugar levels start to rise.

Prediabetes is a disease of insulin resistance and impaired blood sugar regulation. Insulin resistance is often related to, but not limited to:

  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Aging
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Certain medications
  • Smoking

How Many People Have Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is increasingly common. More than 1 out of 3 American adults have it, totaling about 84 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of these, nearly 9 out of 10 do not know they have it, making them more vulnerable to diabetes since they are not under care for their prediabetes.

Diagnosing Prediabetes

You have prediabetes if your results on any of the following tests are higher than normal, but lower than in diabetes.

  • Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT):
    • Drink a solution of 75 grams of glucose (the amount of sugar in about two cans of soda), and have your blood sugar measured after 1 hour.
    • Prediabetes patients have impaired glucose tolerance, or a result of 140-199 mg/dL.
  • Fasting blood glucose test:
    • You go for 8 to 12 hours without eating, then take a blood glucose test.
    • Prediabetes patients have impaired fasting glucose, or a result of 100-125 mg/dL.
  • A1C test:
    • A simple blood test.
    • Prediabetes patients have a result of 5.7 to 6.4%.

Prediabetes vs. Diabetes


Prediabetes

The majority of people who have prediabetes develop diabetes as insulin resistance progresses. If you get diabetes, you will be at higher risk for health problems such as:

  • Hypertension and stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Blindness
  • Infections leading to amputations

Nearly 1 in 10 adults, including nearly 1 in 4 adults over age 65, have diabetes. About 1 in 4 Americans with diabetes do not know they have it.

Prediabetes is a risk factor for the most common kind of diabetes: type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes has a genetic component – that is, some people may be more at risk based on their family history. Still, your risk for type 2 diabetes is also largely related to lifestyle factors that you can modify.

Differences Between Prediabetes and Diabetes

  • Prediabetes has lower blood sugar levels than diabetes, although they are still above normal due to insulin resistance.
  • Prediabetes typically has no symptoms, while diabetes can lead to symptoms such as:
    • fatigue
    • frequent trips to the bathroom
    • blurry vision
    • extreme thirst
  • Untreated prediabetes can lead to diabetes, while untreated diabetes can lead to much more serious complications.

Other Types of Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs in nearly 10% of pregnancies and usually shows up around 24 weeks. It happens when the hormones produced by the fetal placenta block the action of insulin in your body. It is a risk factor for later type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. It is:

  • Genetic, and it often shows up in childhood or during adolescence.
  • An autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the beta cells of the pancreas so they cannot produce insulin.

What Are the Prediabetes Symptoms?


There may be no symptoms of prediabetes if you have it. However, some individuals who are at risk for diabetes develop acanthosis nigricans.

Acanthosis Nigricans is a visible condition that can be a sign of progression from prediabetes to diabetes. It shows itself as thickened, darkened patches of skin, typically in creases such as the back of your neck or armpits.

Because symptoms or signs are not easily identifiable with prediabetes, it is good to know whether you are at risk for it so you can make good decisions about any next steps. Take a hard look at your lifestyle to see if you can make any improvements, and ask your healthcare provider about getting tested if you are concerned.

Who Is at Risk for Prediabetes?

You may be at risk for prediabetes if you have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol under 35 mg/dL
  • High triglycerides over 250 mg/dL
  • Blood pressure over 140/90 mmHg or being treated for hypertension
  • Being of a certain high-risk ethnic group, such as Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, or Pacific Islander American.
  • A family history of diabetes
  • Had gestational diabetes or had a baby weighing over 9 lb. at birth

Obesity, or excess body fat, is a significant risk factor for diabetes. It is usually assessed using body mass index, which accounts for your height and weight. You can use a BMI chart to find your BMI.

  • For most people, a BMI greater than or equal to 25 kg/m2 is considered to be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
  • Asian Americans are considered to be at risk with a BMI of at least 23 kg/m2
  • Pacific Islanders are not considered at higher risk until the BMI reaches at least 26 kg/m2

Examples:

  • African American at 5’3” tall: your BMI would not put you at risk until you reached a weight of 141 lb. or more (that is the weight corresponding to a BMI of 25).
  • Asian American: considered at risk at a weight of 130 or more lb. (BMI of at least 23)
  • Pacific Islander: considered at risk with a weight of 146 lb. or more (a BMI of at least 26)

You are also at risk for prediabetes if you have low physical activity levels. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity so that the working muscles can take up more glucose from the bloodstream to use it as fuel for exercise. Exercise also helps control body weight, to reduce extra body fat.

Do I Have Prediabetes?

The only way to know for sure if you have prediabetes is to get a blood test to determine your A1C or fasting blood sugar, or as part of an OGTT. Still, there are many tests you can take online to check your risk.

Of course, while online tests can give you some idea of your possible risk, always consult your doctor if you are wondering about your risk for prediabetes or for diabetes, or if you have any other health concerns.

Lowering Your Risk for Prediabetes and Diabetes

Prediabetes can be reversed! signs of prediabetes

If you have prediabetes OR NOT, you can potentially cut your risk of developing diabetes by over half by making lifestyle changes that help you lose extra weight, increase your physical activity levels, and make dietary change to improve cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels.

If you are overweight, losing even a small amount of weight can help you lower your risk for diabetes. Research has found that for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of extra body weight you lose, your risk for diabetes decreases by an impressive 16%. While losing weight is not easy, it may be more doable when you set smaller goals such as a few pounds at a time.

Healthy choices Can Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Consider these changes to your diet – which can also help you lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, and lower triglycerides.

  • Eating more vegetables at meals and for snacks
  • Swapping fatty red meat for lean cuts, skinless poultry, fish, egg whites, and beans
  • Choosing water or decaffeinated black coffee or plain tea instead of soft drinks, energy drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Choosing whole grains instead of refined, fruit instead of sugar-sweetened dessert, and olive oil instead of butter

You can also consider how you prepare and eat your food. These habits can help you lose weight and reduce other risk factors for diabetes.

The CDC recommends getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, or at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. You can also break up your 30 daily minutes into three 10-minute sessions.

Examples of moderate-intensity physical activity include:

  • Walking briskly
  • Water aerobics
  • Leisurely cycling
  • Playing doubles tennis
  • Roller skating
  • Gardening and mowing the lawn.

You could alternatively do 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or hit your goals with a combination of moderate and vigorous exercises.

Examples of vigorous-intensity physical activity include:

  • Running
  • Bicycling uphill or fast
  • Swimming laps
  • Kickboxing
  • Circuit strength training
  • Playing soccer or singles tennis

Other changes to lead a healthier lifestyle:

Prediabetes A1C Range


As you start to learn about prediabetes and diabetes, you may see a lot of references to “A1C” or the “A1C test”. The term is short for “HbA1C,” which refers to glycated hemoglobin. Your glycated hemoglobin, or A1C, is the percent of hemoglobin in your body that has been glycated – but here is a breakdown.

  • “Hemoglobin” is the type of protein that carries oxygen in your red blood cells. It delivers the oxygen to the cells in your body as your blood circulates.
  • “Glycated” means that a sugar, or glucose, molecule, is attached. The glycation (or glycosylation) process can occur when there is too much sugar in your blood – that is, when blood sugar levels are high.

Glycated hemoglobin, or A1C, is a measure of how high your blood sugar has been over the past two to three months.

  • A “normal” value is under 5.7%
  • A value of 5.7 to 6.4% is considered to be prediabetes
  • A higher value than that is indicative of diabetes

Test for Prediabetes

The options that you have when you test for prediabetes depend on your health care coverage.

  • You can ask your primary health care provider how to get tested.
  • If you have individual or group insurance through your employer, you may have to pay a copay or hit your deductible.
  • If you do not have insurance, you may need to pay out of pocket, but a glucose test can be relatively inexpensive.
  • Medicaid may cover your test, and Medicare will cover it if your provider provides a reason why you need the test.

Other than that, the test for prediabetes is easy and fast. All you need is a simple blood draw to get a fasting blood sugar test or to test your A1C levels. An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) can take up to a few hours. You will need to stop eating the night before your test if it is a fasting test or OGTT. Your results can come within a day or a couple of weeks, depending on the lab and your healthcare provider.

What Is the ICD-10 Code for Prediabetes?


The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, or ICD, is a standardized list of conditions and treatments. The World Health Organization and its members all support its use. It helps providers keep track of their patients’ conditions, and allows for reimbursement for treatment and care.

It is currently in its 11th version, known as ICD-11. Since 2015, healthcare providers have been required to use ICD-10 to receive reimbursement for care. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, or CMS, is the largest provider of prediabetes and diabetes care in the U.S., and it also requires its providers to use ICD-10 for reimbursement.

Most ICD codes include information such as the category of the disease, its cause, which body part(s) is/are affected, and how severe the condition is.

ICD-10 for Prediabetes

The ICD-10 code for prediabetes is R73.03.

  • “R7” portion refers to an undiagnosed condition linked to abnormal blood test results
  • “3” following “R7” completes the basic code for an elevated fasting blood glucose level
  • “.0” shows that the concern is abnormal glucose
  • “3” at the end indicates prediabetes

ICD-10 for Diabetes

There are multiple ICD-10 codes for diabetes, since there are different types of diabetes, such as types 1 and 2, gestational, and diabetes due to other factors. The general code for Type 2 diabetes is E11. These are some additional beginnings of codes for some types of diabetes.

  • E08: diabetes due to underlying condition
  • E09: drug-induced diabetes
  • E10: type 1 diabetes
  • 024.4-: gestational diabetes
  • E11.9: type 2 diabetes without complications. Your doctor could add additional digits to the code if you have complications.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid provide a three-part checklist for providers to follow when documenting a patient with diabetes.

  1. The type of diabetes, such as Type 1, Type 2, gestational, or induced by drugs or underlying conditions.
  2. Complications related to diabetes, such as a foot wound resulting from diabetic neuropathy.
  3. Treatment provided to the patient, such as medications such as insulin or metformin.

Prediabetes in Children


Type 2 diabetes used to be a disease for older adults, but it is increasingly more common among younger adults and even children. In fact, 208,000 children under 20 have type 2 diabetes, and many more have prediabetes.

The single biggest risk factor is excess body weight, and 1 out of three children in the U.S. are overweight. Additional risk factors include:

  • Being a girl
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Being Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, American Indian, or African-American

While the condition and its progression are similar in children as in adults, insulin resistance is more aggressive in children. Children are more likely to experience progression to diabetes, and then complications of diabetes, more quickly than adults are. Having prediabetes or diabetes earlier in life is also dangerous because it increases risk of developing complications over the course of years.

As with the risk for prediabetes in adults, the risk for prediabetes in children can be reduced with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthier, and increasing physical activity. These are some strategies.

  • Encourage physical activity in schools, such as by requiring physical education classes.
  • Encourage children to walk or bike to school, and walking with younger children.
  • Making water easily available so children choose it instead of sodas and sports drinks.
  • Making fresh vegetables and fruit available for snacks instead of processed snacks such as chips and cookies.
  • Limiting screen time in front of a computer, phone, or television, or playing video games.
  • Including parents in interventions, since they are role models for their children and also providers of food.

Making a healthy lifestyle part of your family culture can lead to big gains for everyone. It can lower your risk for prediabetes, as well as that of your children. When they learn and practice healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle young, your children can

Alcohol and Prediabetes Interaction


When you have prediabetes, you should be aware of the amount and type of alcoholic beverages you drink. Alcohol can interfere with the actions of insulin and lead to higher blood sugar levels – but sometimes it has the opposite effect and can actually decrease your blood sugar to dangerously low levels if you have diabetes.

Drinking alcoholic beverages can have some additional effects to be aware of:

  • Alcohol lowers your inhibition (“relaxes” you) so you may have trouble saying no to unhealthy foods that you would normally not eat: think about bar snacks and restaurant foods especially!
  • Alcohol increases appetite, so you feel hungrier and may eat more.
  • Many mixed drinks have high amounts of sugar from juice and soda. This can raise your blood sugar.
  • Alcohol and alcoholic beverages are high in calories. They can interfere with weight loss or weight control efforts on your part.

The recommendations for drinking alcohol when you have prediabetes are similar to the recommendations for healthy adults – be cautious! Stay under 2 drinks per day if you are male, and under 1 drink per day if you are female. These are some other tips for drinking safely.

  • Never drink on an empty stomach: plan to have at least a light, healthy snack while you drink, or a healthy meal.
  • Drink slowly to slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream.
  • Drink water while you have your alcoholic beverage to prevent dehydration.
  • Select beverages that are not sugary.
  • Let your doctor know if you have any questions about a safe level for you, or any concerns about drinking alcohol.

Diabetes Prevention Program Eligibility Screener


If you think you may have prediabetes or are at risk for getting diabetes, you might want to check your eligibility to join a CDC-approved Diabetes Prevention Program, or DPP. Any CDC DPP program that you join is designed to lower your risk for diabetes over the course of a year. You can expect some standard characteristics in any DPP program you join.

  • A standard curriculum with a different lesson each week on topics related to a healthy lifestyle.
  • Help with goal-setting action plans to make healthy behavior changes.
  • Tools such as food and fitness logging and action plans to make your healthy intentions easier to implement.
  • Multiple lessons on healthy eating, increasing physical activity, and overcoming barriers to achieving these goals.
  • Tips for losing weight gradually as you integrate healthy choices into your life.

Many DPP opportunities offer their weekly lessons at in-person meetings that you attend. If traveling to on-site meeting locations sounds inconvenient to you, or if you are shy about going in person, you might want to look into a virtual DPP program that you can participate in on your time from your smartphone.

Online DPP Eligibility Test for Prediabetes

This online screener can help you see if you are eligible for one such program. It takes about a minute to complete. The screener includes questions about:

  • Your height and weight, since that can affect prediabetes risk.
  • Family history of diabetes.
  • Personal history of gestational diabetes, if you are a woman who has previously been pregnant.
  • Your health insurance provider.
  • Other background information, such as your level of physical activity and your age.

The results of this test can show whether you might be eligible for participation in a virtual DPP coaching program. You will be contacted if you are.

best weight loss to prevent the signs of prediabetes

Best Weight Loss and Diabetes Prevention Health Coach App


You are putting in the work, so you deserve to maximize the benefits. A weight loss health coach app can help you do just that. A health coach app serves all the functions of a regular coach: informing, motivating, guiding, cheering, and organizing. The best weight loss health coach app:

  • Informs you about healthy ways to lose weight and incorporate healthy behaviors into your lifestyle.
  • Motivates you to keep setting and chasing new goals.
  • Guides you through your weight loss journey in your own way.
  • Cheers your successes, your efforts, and, should you fall short of your goals for a time, your renewed dedication.
  • Organizes by encouraging you to log your food, activity and weight, and storing that information.

Lark Health Coach serves all of those roles, and then some. Lark is available 24/7 to be your coach and friend. Your health coach automatically customizes your program for you.

Lark even learns your patterns and coaches around them. Do you prefer a gluten-free or dairy-free lifestyle? You’ll get tips on healthy ways to get your nutrients without eating gluten or dairy products. Do you normally take an afternoon walk? Then do not be surprised if Lark gives you a gentle nudge if you forget to take it one day.

Author
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health