What Is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes vs. Diabetes

The Difference Between Prediabetes and Diabetes

Prediabetes and diabetes are different stages of the same disease.

Prediabetes, sometimes referred to as impaired glucose tolerance (ICG) or impaired fasting glucose (IFG), is an unhealthy bodily state that occurs before a diabetes diagnosis. It develops when the body begins to have trouble using the hormone insulin. If prediabetes is left untreated, it will progress to type 2 diabetes.

More than 10% of people with prediabetes become diabetic within three years, and the rest will likely become diabetic after 10 years—unless they take control of their health.

Prediabetes is reversible. Type 2 diabetes is only manageable.

This doesn’t mean that people with prediabetes are safe. Excess blood sugar and insulin resistance in prediabetics causes damage to the heart and circulatory system. People with prediabetes may also suffer from symptoms of fully developed diabetes, even if they never progress to type 2 diabetes.

To determine if a person has prediabetes or diabetes, physicians measure how much sugar is in the blood. To do this, they use two different measurements:

Fasting Blood Glucose (FBG)
Measuring fasting blood glucose is a simple way to tell if someone has prediabetes or diabetes. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) sets ranges that indicate whether a person is healthy, prediabetic or diabetic. A FBG level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 mM to 6.9 mM) is considered prediabetic, while a score above 125 mg/dL indicates diabetes. A score less than 100 mg/dL means a person has healthy blood sugar levels.

Although this seems simple enough, measuring blood glucose directly has its pitfalls. What a person eats or drinks affects the amount of sugar in the blood. To achieve a good sample, fasting before testing is required. But even after fasting, glucose levels may still vary, which could affect the results.

Hemoglobin A1c 
Measuring hemoglobin A1c is a more effective way to diagnose prediabetes or diabetes. A hemoglobin A1c test identifies the percentage of red blood cells in the body that are attached to sugar molecules. The results reflect the average blood sugar level for the past two to three months, enabling the physician to get a much clearer picture of blood sugar control.

Hemoglobin A1c chart

The ADA states that an A1c level between 5.7% and 6.4% indicates prediabetes. Levels above 6.5% are considered diabetic. People with A1c levels between 5.4% and 5.6% may want to consider treatment, as this usually means a person is trending in the wrong direction. Levels below 5.3% are considered healthy if no other symptoms or deficiencies are present.

Again, the biggest difference between prediabetes and diabetes is that one is reversible and the other is not. Diabetes can be managed, but is nearly impossible to cure.


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