2008-05-14 / Seniors

Prediabetes: What You Should Know

Dear Savvy Senior,

My husband, who's 60, was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and was shocked when the doctor told him that he's probably had it or prediabetes for many years. My question is: what determines prediabetes and how can you know if you have it?

Non-diabetic Donna

Dear Donna:

Underlying today's growing epidemic of type 2 diabetes is a much larger epidemic called prediabetes, which is when the blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. Here's what you should know.


Almost everyone who has type 2 diabetes has passed through prediabetes first. According to the American Diabetes Association, there are around 54 million people in the United States who have prediabetes. If left untreated, it almost always turns into diabetes within 10 years. And even if it's not high enough to be labeled diabetes, high blood sugar can significantly harm your body, causing high blood pressure and damage to your heart, blood vessels, kidneys and eyes.

Do you have it?

Prediabetes is like the warning light in your car that comes on when you're about to run out of gas, letting you know there's a problem looming but you still have time to do something about it. But prediabetes can be tricky, too. It usually causes no outward symptoms, so most people who have it don't realize it. The only way to know for sure is to get a simple blood test done by your doctor. (Tip: Check your personal risk at www.yourdiseaserisk.com- click on "diabetes").

Here are the factors that increase your risk of prediabetes and diabetes. If you fall into one or more of these categories, you need to get tested.

• Over age 45. Prediabetes risk increases with age.

• Are overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more. To calculate your BMI, see www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi. The heavier you are, the greater your risk. Also, having excess fat around your waist, rather than around the hips and thighs, increases risk.

• Have a family history of diabetes.

• Have high blood pressure (140/90 or higher).

• Have low HDL (good) cholesterol and high triglycerides.

• If you're Hispanic, Asian, African or Native American.

• Had gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy) or gave birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds.

Good News

Being diagnosed with prediabetes doesn't mean that you're destined for type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes can actually be reversed- and diabetes prevented- by making some simple but consistent lifestyle changes that include:

Losing weight. If you're overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight, coupled with moderate exercise, can reduce your risk of developing full-fledged diabetes by nearly 60 percent.

Exercising. Regular exercise (about 30 minutes at least five days per week) helps control your weight and blood glucose level. Talk to your doctor about what types of exercise might be appropriate for you.

Eating healthy. Eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables high in fiber, limit fat consumption and go easy on the salt and sugar. Visit www.diabetes.org and click on "Nutrition and Recipes" for healthy diabetic food tips, recipes and other nutrition information.

Not smoking. Smokers are more likely to become diabetic.

Note: Oral diabetes medications may also be an option to reduce your risk of developing fullblown diabetes. If you have high blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol levels, medication for these conditions may be necessary to lower your risks.

Savvy Tips: For more information and dozens of free publications on all aspects of diabetes, visit the National Diabetes Education Program at www.ndep.nih.gov or call 800-860- 8747. For extra help, contact the American Association of Diabetes Educators (800-338- 3633, www.diabeteseducator.org) to locate a diabetes professional in your area. Also, see the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse at www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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