Each year, more and more people are diagnosed with prediabetes, a serious but reversible health condition that puts them at risk of developing not only type 2 diabetes (which has no cure), but also heart disease and strokes. It has been estimated that more than 88 million American adults — more than one in three — have prediabetes. And the vast majority of these people are unaware that they have the condition.
Learning about diabetes and getting regular health screenings are an important part of staying healthy.
Diabetes is a disease that affects a body’s reaction to blood glucose, the blood sugar that gives us energy. Typically, our body uses a hormone called insulin, which is produced in the pancreas, to help move glucose into our cells to give them energy. People with diabetes either do not produce insulin, or their bodies cannot make or use it well.
There are two main types of diabetes, as well as a third type that can affect pregnant people.
A person with type 1 diabetes does not produce any insulin, or produces it in very minimal amounts. They must rely on artificial insulin to regulate their blood glucose. Typically, type 1 diabetes appears in children.
The causes of type 1 diabetes are still largely unknown. Genetics has been found to play a role, but other nonspecific environmental factors can trigger the body’s immune system to attack insulin-producing areas of the pancreas, damaging it beyond repair.
Most people with type 1 diabetes can live long and healthy lives. They must continue to monitor their blood glucose and self-administer insulin accordingly, but with practice this is not difficult.
Type 2 diabetes tends to present later in life — it is often referred to as “adult-onset diabetes — and affects a wide variety of people.
People who develop type 2 diabetes can produce insulin, but they don’t make enough, and their cells respond poorly to the insulin that is created. As with type 1 diabetes, there’s no cure for type 2 diabetes. However, by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and monitoring insulin and blood glucose carefully, most people with type 2 diabetes can live a normal, healthy life.
Some people develop diabetes during pregnancy — a condition known as gestational diabetes. As with other forms of diabetes, symptoms and outcomes can be improved by eating a healthy diet and getting a good amount of exercise. With most cases of gestational diabetes, the patient’s blood sugar normalizes after birth.
Many people experience years of a condition called prediabetes before they develop type 2 diabetes. A person with prediabetes has blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, an indication that there may be an issue with insulin production or activity. Fortunately, prediabetes can be reversed when care is taken with diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors. Symptoms of prediabetes include fatigue, frequent urination, and increased thirst; however, most people with prediabetes do not experience symptoms.
People who have poor diets, are sedentary, or have a family history of diabetes may be predisposed to develop prediabetes.
If no action is taken, prediabetes will typically develop into irreversible type 2 diabetes. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes must be managed carefully, and neither can be cured.
For a person with either type of diabetes, if sugar is allowed to build up in the bloodstream, it can cause a cascading series of complications that may lead to heightened risks for serious, long-term health issues such as heart disease and damage to almost every area of the body including the nerves, kidneys, eyes, skin.
Despite its huge impact on the internal processes of your body, most people with prediabetes are asymptomatic. As many as 90 percent of people with prediabetes don’t know they have it. It’s recommended that most people over the age of 35 be screened for prediabetes and diabetes every three to five years.
Prediabetes and diabetes are diagnosed through a simple test called the A1C. Using a pinprick, your healthcare provider will draw a drop of blood, which is then sent to a laboratory. There, your blood will be analyzed, and your blood glucose levels will allow your doctor to determine whether you have diabetes, prediabetes, or other metabolic problems that need to be addressed.
To make a more specific diagnosis, your doctor may order further tests, including a fasting glucose blood sugar test or a urine analysis.
The A1C shows how a simple laboratory test can have a huge impact on your health. By quickly and accurately analyzing your blood glucose, the lab can help your primary care physician determine how to offer you the best care.
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Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.