What are the warning signs of prediabetes?

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on May 15, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Have you heard the term “prediabetes” and aren’t sure what it means exactly? If so, you might also be wondering how you can tell if you have an increased risk of developing this condition—so continue reading to learn what prediabetes is and what the warning signs are.


Along with a healthcare provider’s evaluation, an HbA1c test may help you find out if you have prediabetes. You can easily check your A1c levels from the comfort of home with our at-home HbA1c test.


Everlywell

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes occurs when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. As a result, prediabetes means you’re more likely to develop diabetes if your blood sugar gets too high Additionally, the high glucose levels associated with prediabetes can start damaging your blood vessels, heart, and kidneys.

A healthcare provider may diagnose you with prediabetes if you have:

  • A hemoglobin A1c test result between 5.7% and 6.4%
  • A fasting blood glucose test result between 100 and 125 mg/dL
  • An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) between 140 and 199 mg/dL two hours after starting the test

Having a diagnosis of prediabetes doesn’t mean that developing diabetes is inevitable. It just means you have to watch out for the warning signs of prediabetes—and take steps to keep your blood sugar levels in check.

What causes prediabetes?

In someone who doesn’t have prediabetes, their body digests their food and the sugar enters their bloodstream. Their pancreas makes insulin, which circulates through their blood. The insulin then allows the sugar to enter their cells, which lowers blood sugar levels.

If you have prediabetes, the process doesn’t work this way. Instead, your pancreas either doesn’t make enough insulin or your cells become resistant to it (insulin resistance). As a result, the sugar in your body doesn’t fuel your cells. It simply builds up in your bloodstream, causing high blood sugar.

Symptoms of prediabetes: what are the warning signs of prediabetes?

You may be looking for some clear warning signs of prediabetes, but this condition typically doesn’t produce any immediate signs or symptoms. That’s why an estimated 8 out of 10 people with prediabetes don’t even know they have it.

However, some people experience at least one symptom of prediabetes. You may notice darkened, velvety bands or patches of skin on the following body parts:

  • Armpits
  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Knuckles
  • Neck

The medical term for this skin issue is acanthosis nigricans, and it suggests that you have too much insulin in your blood.

What are the most common symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes?

Although you may not have prediabetes symptoms, you may notice symptoms if you are developing diabetes. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Excessive hunger and thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Increased or frequent urination

It’s a good idea to make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you start to notice these diabetes symptoms and suspect you may be developing type 2 diabetes, especially if you’re at a higher risk for prediabetes or diabetes. Your provider can help you determine whether your blood sugar levels are outside the normal range. They may recommend you take an A1c test, which you can do from the convenience of home with the Everlywell at-home HbA1c test.

What are the risk factors of prediabetes?

When it comes to prediabetes risk factors, you need to be vigilant if diabetes runs in your family. This is especially true if a parent or a sibling has diabetes. But a family history of diabetes isn’t the only risk factor for developing prediabetes. Here are some others:

  • Weight. Being overweight is a key risk factor for prediabetes. When you have more fatty tissue, especially around your abdomen, your cells are more likely to become insulin resistant—putting you at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Diet and physical activity. You’re more likely to develop prediabetes if you eat red and processed meats and drink sugary beverages. Additionally, the less exercise you get, the more likely you are to develop prediabetes. Regular physical activity can control weight and help the body use insulin more effectively.
  • Certain health conditions. Several health issues may put you at a higher risk of getting a prediabetes diagnosis. Some examples include high blood pressure, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), obstructive sleep apnea, low levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), and high levels of triglycerides (you can check your cholesterol levels from the comfort of home with our cholesterol test). Having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) can also increase your risk.
  • Age. If you’re over 45, your risk of developing prediabetes increases.
  • Smoking tobacco. Smoking is one more risk factor to consider. If you smoke tobacco products, you’re more likely to experience insulin resistance, putting you at an increased risk of developing prediabetes.

What are the health complications associated with diabetes?

The main concern about prediabetes is that it can develop into type 2 diabetes. Unmanaged diabetes can contribute to certain health issues, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol and heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Damage to the kidneys, nerves, and eyes

While these issues can occur with type 2 diabetes, proactively managing your blood sugar levels can help prevent them. (Helpful tip: consider learning what medications can raise blood sugar levels and speak with your healthcare provider about their recommendations related to prescriptions you’re taking.)

What lifestyle changes can help improve blood sugar?

Several lifestyle changes can often stop prediabetes from progressing to type 2 diabetes:

  • Weight loss. Being overweight or obese makes it more likely that you’ll develop prediabetes—so losing weight may help drop your blood sugar levels.
  • Regular physical activity. Not only can exercise help you maintain a healthy weight, it can be an effective way to lower high blood sugar levels by increasing your body’s sensitivity to insulin. This allows your body to absorb more sugar so that less of it is circulating in your bloodstream. It’s recommended to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.
  • Avoid smoking or smoke less. Smoking is a risk factor for high blood sugar and developing prediabetes, so if you currently smoke, consider cutting back—or quitting—to help prevent your blood sugar from climbing too high.

In addition to these lifestyle changes, consider taking a look at what you can change in your diet. Here are a few tips on how to lower blood sugar naturally from a dietary perspective that can potentially help:

  • Eat fewer processed sugary foods. Sugar-filled foods can kick up your blood sugar levels—so keep an eye out for foods that have a lot of refined (or added) sugar. Two common examples are flavored yogurts and sugar-sweetened beverages (like soda and juice).
  • Eat more fiber-rich foods. A diet high in fiber can help your body control its blood sugar level. Fiber helps slow digestion, which in turn slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Good sources of fiber include black beans, lima beans, avocados, broccoli, turnips, oats, and barley.

How can you test and monitor your blood sugar levels?

If you’re wondering if you have prediabetes, speak with your healthcare provider to learn what next steps they recommend.

One option for testing and monitoring blood sugar levels over time is a glycated hemoglobin (A1c) test, which indicates your average blood sugar level over the past 2-3 months. The test measures the percentage of the hemoglobin in your red blood cells that are attached to sugar from your bloodstream.

This is a test you can take at home with our at-home HbA1c Test. Taking the test is easy: you just collect a small sample of blood via a simple finger prick, and ship the sample to a lab for analysis (a prepaid shipping label is included with the kit).

In addition to an A1c test, you can also learn more about your glucose levels with a fasting blood sugar test or an oral glucose tolerance test. Your healthcare provider can let you know if they suggest any of these blood glucose level tests for you.

If test results indicate you have prediabetes, your healthcare provider may recommend that you have your A1c levels retested every year. If this is the case, the Everlywell HbA1c Test can be a quick and simple way to check your level from the convenience of home.


Type 1 diabetes and pregnancy: what you need to know


References

1. Prediabetes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

2. Prediabetes - Diagnosis. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

3. Prediabetes - Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

4. Prediabetes - Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

5. A1C test. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

6. Glucose tolerance test. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed May 15, 2020.

Everlywell makes lab testing easy and convenient with at-home collection and digital results in days. Learn More