Preventing Diabetes

What to Do When You're Diagnosed With Pre-Diabetes

It can be really scary when a doctor tells you that you have pre-diabetes, or that the results of a glucose test show you're at risk for diabetes. Pre-diabetes is diagnosed when blood glucose is between 100 and 125 mg/dL or when a glucose tolerance test shows the glucose in your blood to be between 140 and 199 mg/dL. But too many times this news is presented in a passive way -- as if it's just something you have to live with.

Actually, studies show, pre-diabetes is just that -- a sign that your body is on the way to getting diabetes. And just as you can lower blood pressure or cholesterol that's in the high normal range, you can prevent diabetes by taking steps to keep it at bay.

To start with, analyze the top risk factors that could be putting you at risk for diabetes. If you have two or more of these risk factors, diabetes could be on the horizon for you, and you might want to pay attention to all strategies that work to protect against it.

Top 6 Diabetes Risk Factors

"¢ Being overweight -- A body-mass index of 30 or above vastly increases your risk of diabetes, but even being moderately overweight (BMI over 25) -- particularly in the belly area -- is a risk factor.

"¢ Having "pre-diabetes," which means having higher blood sugar than normal.

"¢ Being insulin resistant -- This is usually determined when doctors diagnose other conditions, such as metabolic syndrome. (Metabolic syndrome is the medical term for having several cardiovascular risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and excess weight around the waist.)

"¢ Being sedentary -- Even moderate activity reduces the risk of diabetes by helping regulate insulin.

"¢ Having a family history of diabetes -- A first-generation relative (parent, sibling, or child) with diabetes increases your risk; this unfortunately is one risk factor you can't control.

"¢ Being of Hispanic, African-American, or American Indian descent - obviously you can't prevent or change this one either.

"¢ For women, having had a baby over nine pounds at birth, or having been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

How To Treat Pre-diabetes

In a nutshell, you treat pre-diabetes like it's diabetes itself. Except -- most likely -- you're not already suffering the degenerative disabilities that come with diabetes, such as nerve damage and vision problems. And you don't want those, right? In that sense, pre-diabetes is good news. Think of it as a call to action. Here's what you do:

1. Lose weight - even a little bit. Studies show that someone who weighs 200 pounds can prevent diabetes by losing just 10 to 15 pounds. But without that weight loss, most people with pre-diabetes will be diabetic within five to seven years.

2. Treat insulin resistance. The first-line drug of choice is metformin (brand names Glucophage, Fortamet), which stimulates the sensitivity of cells in the liver and other tissues to increase the uptake of glucose.

3. Get moving. Instead of thinking of it as exercise, which feels like a duty, think of ways to get your body in motion. Gardening, walking the dog, doing chores around the house -- anything that's not sitting on the couch benefits your body by stimulating heart rate and circulation. Aim for 30 minutes a day, even if it's in three ten-minute bursts.

4. Lower blood pressure and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and boost HDL ("good") cholesterol. This can involve taking a statin, a diuretic, or other meds, or it can be achieved through diet, weight loss, and exercise.

And here's a motivating thought to make this all worthwhile: Two big studies published in the last few years have shown that people with pre-diabetes who followed the recommendations above cut their risk of getting diabetes by more than half.

Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio