Prediabetes: Your Wake-up Call

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About 86 million Americans have prediabetes. That’s one in three of us who are 18 and older, and half of us who are 65 and older.

The problem is, most of us don’t know it.

“Prediabetes increases your risk of developing diabetes and implies that your risks for heart attack and stroke are already increased. It should be a wake-up call for adopting a healthier lifestyle,” says Robert Zimmerman, MD.

A slippery slope

Who’s at risk

“There is a high incidence of type 2 diabetes in patients whose parents have the disease, so we know there is a genetic factor,” says Dr. Zimmerman.

Ethnicity also matters. Native Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders and African-Americans have a higher chance of developing diabetes.

“But there is also an environmental factor,” says Dr. Zimmerman. “People with a genetic tendency to develop diabetes if they become overweight may not get it if they maintain a normal body weight.”

Women: Heightened concern

The number of women with prediabetes has climbed alarmingly, from 15.5 percent in 2001 to 50.5% in 2010. And while the death rate from diabetes has remained stable for men, it has risen dramatically for women since the 1970s.

A slower metabolism makes weight gain problematic for both men and women as they age. But women have extra challenges:

What to expect from testing

If your doctor orders blood sugar testing, here are the tests you’ll have:

You may need testing earlier or more often if you have:

A few pounds can make a difference

“We now know that people with prediabetes can delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes through lifestyle changes. If lifestyle interventions make you healthier, it’s the way to go,” says Dr. Zimmerman.

Rather than aim for dramatic weight loss, try to lose 10 to 15 pounds by transitioning to a healthy diet that’s low in carbohydrates and fat:

Being more active helps, too

Incorporate exercise into your life, and you’ll burn additional calories.

If you have prediabetes, these lifestyle changes will lower your blood sugar levels better than medications. “Medications have potential side effects and are less effective. Exercise can help reduce weight, blood sugars and blood pressure,” says Dr. Zimmerman.

Other benefits to changing your lifestyle: You’ll look and feel your best.

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