Prediabetes is a new word for a fast-rising problem around the world. It’s a diagnosis made when your blood glucose is higher than it should be, but not high enough to be called diabetes. “Prediabetes is this kind of grey zone,” says Dr. Stewart Harris, a professor in family medicine at the University of Western Ontario’s Schulich School of Medicine who specializes in diabetes. “Your body is metabolically losing the ability to manage blood sugars after eating, and they start to creep up.”
As many as six million Canadians can be considered to have prediabetes. The trouble is, many of them don’t know it. Prediabetes often has no symptoms at all. Yet if these people don’t take steps to control their blood sugar now, a diagnosis of diabetes within the next few years is highly likely.
Could you have prediabetes? Here are five signs that you might.
1. You’re in a high-risk group for type 2 diabetes.
Researchers have identified certain people who are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. These folks are also at risk for prediabetes. If you have a family history of diabetes or an Aboriginal, South Asian, Asian, African or Hispanic background, you’re at higher risk for prediabetes. Other risk factors include being older than 45 and having a sedentary lifestyle.
2. You have a health problem linked to prediabetes.
The condition of your body can sometimes point to high blood sugar. If you’re overweight or obese’that is, if your body mass index is over 25’you could have prediabetes. Same goes for having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease or polycystic ovarian syndrome. If you had gestational diabetes, or diabetes diagnosed when you were pregnant, you could develop prediabetes after the baby’s born.
3. You have classic diabetes symptoms.
“The vast majority of people with prediabetes will have no symptoms whatsoever,” notes Dr. Harris. But in some cases, people with elevated blood sugar may notice increased thirst, a more frequent need to pee or unexplained fatigue. “On the whole, prediabetes tends to be fairly subtle,” says Dr. Harris.
4. You have strange new dark patches on your skin.
People with prediabetes can develop a skin disorder called acanthosis nigricans. It shows up as dark, thick patches in areas of your body where there are skin creases or folds. Acanthosis nigricans often appears on the neck, in the armpits, inside the elbows, behind the knees and on the knuckles.
5. You never get much sleep.
It may sound peculiar, but people who sleep for less than six hours a night on a regular basis are more likely to have prediabetes. Researchers believe this may be the result of connections between hormones, the nervous system and sleep impairment.
Keep in mind you could have prediabetes even without any of these signs.
The best way to know for sure is to ask your family physician for a simple fasting blood glucose test. If it shows a glucose level of 6.1 to 6.9 mmol/L, which falls into the category of prediabetes, your doc may suggest following up with an oral glucose tolerance test. After you down a super-sugary drink, your blood glucose will be measured again to find out how well your body deals with a sugar challenge.
“It’s like a pancreatic stress test,” says Dr. Harris. If you’re prediabetic, your blood glucose will be higher than normal.
The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that everyone over 40 should have their blood glucose measured, or earlier if you fall into a high-risk group. If your doc doesn’t bring it up, you should. “You should be proactive with this,” says Dr. Harris. It’s the best way to make sure prediabetes is picked up.