What is Pre-Diabetes?

Diabetes UK

You may have heard the word prediabetes in the news or been told by your doctor that you have prediabetes. Prediabetes is not a clinical term recognised by the World Health Organisation. But it’s starting to be used more by healthcare professionals and in the media to describe people who are at high risk of type 2 diabetes.

Here we talk through what prediabetes means, if there are any symptoms of prediabetes and what you can do to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes means that your blood sugars are higher than usual, but not high enough for you to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It also means that you are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. You may not be experiencing any symptoms with prediabetes.

Prediabetes is also called:

  • Borderline diabetes
  • Impaired Fasting Glucose (IFG)
  • Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT)
  • Impaired Glucose Regulation (IGR)
  • Non-diabetic hyperglycaemia

They all mean the same thing. So if you’ve been told you have any of these, knowing this is the first step to being able to do something about it. And there are lots of things you can do to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Blood tests

If you're worried about prediabetes you could call your GP and ask for a blood test. The test will be checking your HbA1C levels which is your average blood glucose (sugar) levels for the last two to three months. If you're at risk of developing type two diabetes your target range HbA1C level should be below 42mmol/mol (6%).

Prediabetes and the risk of type 2 diabetes

Prediabetes is a warning sign that you are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The good news is you don’t have it yet, and there are lots of things you can do to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes from developing.

What are the symptoms of prediabetes?

Prediabetes doesn’t have any symptoms. If you start to have any of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes it means you have probably already developed it. So it’s important to know the risk factors and what you can do to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes risk factors

You are more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes if some or all of the risk factors apply to you. Our Know Your Risk online tool only takes a couple of minutes to complete. If your results show that you are at moderate or high risk, you could be eligible for a free place on Healthier You, the Diabetes Prevention Programme for England.

At the moment 12.3 million people are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes in the UK. But some risk factors can be changed and it’s important to make healthy lifestyles choices to limit your risk.

You may be eligible for a free NHS Health Check which will check for health conditions including type 2 diabetes.

Preventing type 2 diabetes

Three out of five cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented. Being at risk doesn’t mean you will definitely develop type 2 diabetes. Now is a great time to start making healthy changes to your lifestyle to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Your healthcare team can support you in making these changes.

You can also call our helpline if you have any worries about being at risk of type 2 diabetes or for help with what to do next. And you could join our online forum to share your experiences with others who are at risk or have type 2 diabetes.

Manage your weight

If you are carrying extra weight and at high risk of type 2 diabetes, losing just 5% of your body weight can significantly reduce your risk. There are lots of ways you can lose weight and it’s about finding what works best for you. Making healthier food choices and being more active are both positive ways to start making these changes. If you need help with managing your weight, a dietitian can help you.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

Whilst there is no specific 'prediabetes diet', the food and drink we have in our overall diet is linked to our risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

For example, your risk increases if your diet is made up of food and drinks with high fat, high GI (short for glycaemic index) and low fibre. But the good news is that by changing some of your food and drink choices, you can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

But what is a healthy, balanced diet anyway? There's no one-size-fits-all way of eating, but all of these have been linked with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes:

  • Mediterranean diet – check out our handy Mediterranean meal plans
  • Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet
  • vegetarian and vegan diets
  • the Nordic diet
  • moderately cutting down on carbohydrates.

So, to reduce your risk, aim to eat more of the foods linked with a decreased risk, like fruit and veg, wholegrains, yogurt and cheese, and unsweetened tea and coffee. These are all found in the approaches to eating listed above. And cut down on red and processed meat, refined carbohydrates, sugar sweetened drinks and potatoes (particularly French fries). This will all help to reduce your risk of developing type 2.

Be more active

If you spend a lot of time sitting down, this is known as a sedentary lifestyle. Being sedentary is linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

So being active in your daily life can help to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. This doesn’t mean you need to take up a new sport or join the gym. You could make small changes so that you are being more active every day. Think about taking phone calls standing up, using stairs instead of the lift, and going for a walk on your lunch break.

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