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The Dangers of Prediabetes

What you need to know if your blood sugar level is in the prediabetes range.

Knowledge Is Power continued...

Some people are never even tested; others disregard what their doctors are telling them. And because prediabetes typically doesn't cause any symptoms, most people won't suspect anything is wrong.

But the excess glucose in prediabetes may be already causing damage in some people, Horton notes. Inside the eyes, some people with prediabetes are already experiencing microaneurysms -- a widening of the blood vessels that can result in weakness and rupture. Eventually, these microaneurysms can lead to diabetic retinopathy, a condition that can lead to vision loss. Others may already have protein in the urine, which is an early sign of kidney damage caused by the excess glucose.

Research shows that prediabetes also boosts your risk for developing cardiovascular disease, the nation's leading cause of death. "People who have prediabetes have a 1.5-[fold] increase in their risk for cardiovascular disease compared to healthy people," Albright says. "You have a two- to fourfold increase in that risk if you have diabetes."

Of course, having prediabetes means you may be on the way to developing diabetes, especially if you have other risk factors such as advancing age, family history, being overweight and inactive, and being a member of certain ethnic groups. But it doesn't necessarily have to become diabetes -- in many cases you can still turn it around.

Stopping Prediabetes From Becoming Type 2 Diabetes

The good news is that having prediabetes doesn't mean you're doomed to develop type 2 diabetes. Since age, family history, and ethnicity are factors you can't change, preventing diabetes must focus on exercise and weight loss, Albright says.

Making the right lifestyle changes can halt the progression toward type 2 diabetes -- or at least delay it, Horton says. Losing just 5% to 7% of your body weight and exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week, reduced the incidence of type 2 diabetes by 58% over nearly three years in a landmark study called the Diabetes Prevention Program.

Horton recommends that people exercise 150 minutes a week. "The more you do the better off you are," he says. But that doesn't require extreme activity. "We're not saying you have to go to the gym and pump iron," Horton says. "All you have to do is walk and find ways to move more." He also recommends eating a heart-healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and limiting saturated fats and trans fats. "We recommend you get 30% or fewer calories from fat, and less than 10% of your calories from saturated fat," he says.

To help inspire people, the CDC has created a National Diabetes Prevention Program, which includes a partnership with the YMCA and UnitedHealth Group. The YMCA program provides 16 weekly sessions on healthy living, including discussions on how to cut back on fat and calories, become more active, and cope with stress. The CDC's web site predicts that, in time, more organizations will become involved in the program.

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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