Wouldn’t it be nice if the human body had an “early alert system” that advised us when something was about to go wrong with our health? Prediabetes offers a warning and gives us a chance to change the future.

Prediabetes refers to blood glucose (sugar) levels that are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes (i.e. a fasting plasma glucose level of 7.0 mmol/L or higher). Although not everyone with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes, many people will.

It is important to know if you have prediabetes, because research has shown that some long-term complications associated with diabetes – such as heart disease and nerve damage – may begin during prediabetes.

Risk factors

Like type 2 diabetes, prediabetes can occur without you knowing it, so being aware of your risks and getting tested are important. This is especially true if you have prediabetes as part of the “metabolic syndrome,” meaning you also have high blood pressure, high levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides, low levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and excess fat around the waist.

The risk for type 2 diabetes is higher as you grow older, so the Canadian Diabetes Association recommends screening by testing fasting plasma glucose for everyone once they reach age 40 and every three years after that. If you have risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, you should be tested more frequently or start regular screening earlier.

The good news

Research has shown that if you take steps to manage your blood glucose when you have prediabetes, you can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes from developing. You may be able to reduce blood glucose (sugar) levels with simple lifestyle changes, such as increasing your physical activity and enjoying a healthy, low-fat meal plan.

Losing even a modest amount of weight (five to 10 per cent of total body weight) through healthy eating and regular physical activity can make a huge difference in your health and quality of life.

When lifestyle changes are not enough to normalize blood glucose, your health-care provider might recommend that you use oral medication.

If you have prediabetes, you are at increased risk for heart disease or stroke. Your doctor may wish to also treat or counsel you about cardiovascular risk factors such as tobacco use, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The important thing to remember about prediabetes is that it doesn’t always lead to diabetes. If you have prediabetes, taking steps to manage your blood glucose gives you a chance to change your future to one that does not include type 2 diabetes.