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One in three adults in the U.S. has prediabetes – that’s about 96 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with prediabetes have high blood sugar levels that can lead to developing type 2 diabetes.

Over 80% of people with prediabetes don’t know they have it because they don’t get tested regularly.

Prediabetes can leave you at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Some good news is that an active lifestyle and weight loss can help prevent or delay serious health problems.

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes involves blood glucose levels (also called blood sugar levels) that are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

Prediabetes usually occurs in people who already have some insulin resistance or whose pancreas isn’t making enough insulin to keep blood glucose in the normal range.

Studies show that most people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years. This can be slowed by making changes in your diet and physical activity and losing a small amount of weight.

Like people with diabetes, those with prediabetes have increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Learn more about early warning signs of prediabetes

Risk factors for prediabetes and diabetes

The American Diabetes Association recommends testing for prediabetes and diabetes in adults without symptoms who are overweight and have one or more risk factors. They include:

  • lack of physical inactivity
  • parent or sibling with diabetes
  • family background is African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Alaska Native, American Indian or Pacific Islander
  • gestational diabetes or gave birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
  • high blood pressure
  • low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol
  • high triglyceride levels
  • polycystic ovary syndrome
  • impaired fasting glucose or glucose tolerance in previous testing
  • severe obesity and other conditions associated with insulin resistance
  • cardiovascular disease

Talk to your doctor about blood test options to diagnose prediabetes. If test results are normal, testing should be repeated at least every three years. In those without these risk factors, testing should begin at age 35.

Take this 60-second type 2 diabetes risk test

Check out UC Davis Health's class on preventing diabetes

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose, or sugar, levels are too high. More than nine in 10 cases are type 2 or “adult-onset” diabetes, the kind linked to excess body weight and physical inactivity.

In type 2 diabetes, your body does not produce or make good use of insulin, a hormone that helps glucose enter your cells to give them energy. Without enough insulin, the glucose stays in your blood and can lead to serious or life-threatening cardiovascular, kidney, and eye problems.

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes causes more deaths per year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Having diabetes nearly doubles your chance of a heart attack.

The risk of death among people with diabetes is about twice that of people without diabetes of a similar age, according to the CDC. People with diabetes lose as many as 10-15 years of life on average. Diabetes is also a leading cause of new cases of blindness, kidney failure, and leg and feet amputations not caused by trauma.

Learn more about diabetes types, symptoms, risk factors, and how you can get help

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver can’t use the insulin it makes. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin to help glucose get into your cells. The CDC relates insulin to a key that lets sugar into cells for use as energy.

Eventually, your pancreas can’t keep up with increased insulin production, causing blood sugar to rise. If you have insulin resistance, you want to become less insulin resistant which will allow your cells to better use insulin. This is where increased physical activity and weight loss come into play.

Ways you can reduce your chances of diabetes

The good news about a prediabetes diagnosis is that it can be used as warning sign. Prediabetes can allow you to take control of and change your health and habits before it’s too late.
Modest lifestyle changes can delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes in prediabetics. These changes can even restore normal blood-glucose levels.

A 5-7% weight loss along with 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity can reduce the onset of type 2 diabetes in prediabetics by nearly 60%.

If this sounds like a lot, here’s some perspective: For someone who weighs 200 pounds, a 5-7% weight loss means 10-14 pounds. And 150 minutes of exercise can translate into a brisk 30-minute walk, five days a week.

In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled, according to the CDC. With a few adjustments, many prediabetics can avoid being one of them.

Learn about UC Davis Health's class on preventing diabetes

Take the American Diabetes Association's quick self-test for diabetes risk

Learn more about healthy habits to help you prevent type 2 diabetes