Affecting over 29 million nationally, diabetes is a condition that occurs when the body isn’t able to turn sugar (glucose) into energy, a natural process involving the hormone insulin. For people with diabetes, their bodies either don’t make enough insulin or don’t use insulin properly. Glucose is not moved into the cells normally, and this causes an increase in blood glucose levels. Over time, if untreated, this can cause more serious problems. Because diabetes can become a serious health-related sickness, it’s important to stay educated on the various symptoms and stages of disease. Pre-diabetes may be a wake-up call to alert you that you’re on the path to diabetes. It’s certainly not too late to turn things around.
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Three Common Types of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is most common in children and young adults. With this type, the pancreas doesn’t make insulin.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type. It develops when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin.
The third type of diabetes is gestational and can develop in women as a result of hormonal changes during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes typically disappears after pregnancy; however, these women are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
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Pre-diabetes is the stage right before a person develops type 2 diabetes when blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to diagnose the person with diabetes.
Although there are no clear symptoms of pre-diabetes, there are some risk factors to be aware of. Risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes can include:
- Family history
- Member of a minority group
- Overweight or obese
- High blood pressure
- Gave birth to baby weighing nine or more pounds
If your doctor determines that you are at risk for diabetes, there are a number of tests that they may order to confirm the diagnosis.
This test measures your average blood glucose level over the previous months. The results are given in percentages: normal is less than 5.7 percent; pre-diabetes is 5.7 to 6.4 percent; and diabetes is anything higher than 6.5 percent. Unlike other tests the A1C does not involve fasting from food or drinks.
Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG)
The fasting plasma glucose screen checks your blood glucose levels after not eating or drinking anything other than water for the previous eight hours. These scores are presented in terms of milligrams per deciliter: normal results are less than 100mg/dl; pre-diabetes is 100 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl; and diabetes is diagnosed over 126 mg/dl.
Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)
The third common test option is the oral glucose tolerance test. This two-hour test checks your blood glucose levels before and two hours after you consume the provided drink. The results of this test will indicate how your body processes glucose.
The results of this test are also given in milligrams per deciliter: normal is considered less than 140 mg/dl; pre-diabetes ranges from 140 to 199 mg/dl; and the diabetes range is anything higher than 200 mg/dl.
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes
It’s important to note that being told you have pre-diabetes does not necessarily indicate that you will be diagnosed with diabetes. There are a number of lifestyle changes that your doctor may recommend to help delay or reverse the course of diabetes, such as:
- Altering diet
- Quitting smoking
- Increasing physical activity
- Losing 10 to 15 pounds
The American Diabetes Association offers an interactive questionnaire that can help determine if you are at risk, or in a stage called pre-diabetes. The questions ask about age, gender, family history, height, and activity level. It’s important to remember not to panic, as there is good news that comes with the diagnosis of pre-diabetes. This can be an opportunity for you to improve your overall health, as the progression from pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes is avoidable if handled correctly. The first step to becoming healthier is introducing a smart diet paired with a variety of physical activities. By transforming the way you eat and exercise, you have the ability to bring your blood sugar level back to normal.
To discuss your risk for developing diabetes, contact your primary care physician.
The UPMC Department of Endocrinology stands as a national leader in research of diabetes and endocrine conditions. We partner with the University of Pittsburgh Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism for research and clinical trials. We treat diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, hormonal disorders, and thyroid disorders at several locations across western Pennsylvania. We also have specialized Diabetes Centers to help you manage your disease. U.S. News & World Report ranks UPMC Presbyterian among the top hospitals in the country for endocrinology and diabetes care.