The Surprising Truth About Prediabetes

If you do have prediabetes, damage to your organs and blood vessels could have already started

By Barbara Pierce 

Caroline Jacobus
Caroline Jacobus

Don’t let the “pre” fool you — prediabetes is a serious health condition.

Prediabetes is just what it sounds like. It means that your blood sugar is pretty high, higher than normal, but not high enough to meet the threshold of Type 2 diabetes. People with Type 2 diabetes almost always had prediabetes first.

It’s common: one in three adults in the U.S. have prediabetes, according to the CDC.

It’s real. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

If you have prediabetes and don’t make any changes, it’s very likely to become Type 2 diabetes. In fact, if you do have prediabetes, damage to your organs and blood vessels could have already started, even before you’re diagnosed with diabetes.

“Prediabetes can go undetected for years,” said registered nurse Caroline Jacobus, certified diabetes educator at CNY Diabetes, Mohawk Valley Health System. “Many people have no symptoms at all, while others may have minor symptoms which can go unnoticed.”

There are usually no signs or symptoms, but one possible sign of prediabetes is darkened skin on certain parts of the body (the neck, armpits, elbows, knees and knuckles). Other symptoms may include increased thirst, frequent urination, excess hunger, fatigue or blurred vision.

It’s reversible. The good news is that you may be able to prevent or delay a diagnosis of diabetes through lifestyle changes, Jacobus added.

What causes prediabetes?

Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that acts like a key to let blood sugar into cells for use as energy. If you have prediabetes, the cells in your body don’t respond normally to insulin. Your pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond. Eventually your pancreas can’t keep up and your blood sugar rises, setting the stage for prediabetes—and Type 2 diabetes down the road.

What are the risk factors?

As you can have prediabetes for years and not have any symptoms, it’s important to talk to your health care provider about getting your blood sugar tested if you have these risk factors, explained Jacobus:

• Being overweight

• Having a history of Type 2 diabetes in your family

• Having diabetes during pregnancy or given birth to a baby over nine pounds

• Have fallen out of the cycle of getting exercise

• Being over the age of 45

• Being African American, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander or American Indian.

If I have prediabetes, can I avoid getting full-blown diabetes?

“Research shows that people may be able to delay or prevent a diagnosis of diabetes through lifestyle changes,” said Jacobus. “The focus of our program (at CNY Diabetes) is on changing eating habits, weight reduction and getting effective physical activity.”

Even loosing a small amount of weight can make a difference, around 5% of your body weight, or 10-14 pounds for a 200-pound person.

Regular physical activity means about 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The key is to find activities you enjoy. A little activity every day will make a difference.

CNY Diabetes offers a program for people with prediabetes to support the lifestyle changes that are necessary to maintain normal blood sugar control. At this time, the program is through telemedicine and telephone appointments.

How successful are these lifestyle changes?

“Making these lifestyle changes can lower the chance of developing Type 2 diabetes by as much as 71%,” said Jacobus. “At CNY Diabetes we have a high success rate in assisting people to lose weight and lowering their blood sugar levels,” said Jacobus.

Why is important to not let it get to full-blown diabetes?

“It’s very important that anyone who has significant risk factors see their health care provider and have the blood sugar test performed. Making lifestyle changes now can prevent significant potentially major complications later,” said Jacobus. “There are very serious problems accompany a diagnosis of diabetes, including blindness, kidney damage, amputation, heart attack or stroke.”

Taking care of prediabetes does make a difference.

If you suspect you may have prediabetes or diabetes, contact your health care professional for a blood test. It’s simple: A blood sample is taken after you fast for at least eight hours or overnight. This test will show your average blood sugar level for the past three months. Most insurances cover this test.

To lower your risk of prediabetes, as well as diabetes, eat healthy foods. Choose foods low in fat and calories and high in fiber. Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Be more active. Lose excess weight if you’re overweight. Stop smoking.

For more information on CNY Diabetes, see, or call 315-624-5620. A referral from your health care provider is required to make an appointment. They can assist you with this if necessary.