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What's the difference between prediabetes and diabetes?

November 18, 2016
Diabetes Injection

Some 86 million Americans age 20 and older have prediabetes. You could likely be one of them and not even know it.

Prediabetes – when your blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes – is a precursor to developing type 2 diabetes and also puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular disease.

“We call prediabetes a ‘silent’ condition. Most people will have no symptoms for several years, until it’s too late and symptoms start to occur signaling your progression to type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Robert Cooper, an endocrinologist at Baystate Medical Center. “That’s a good reason not to skip your well-visits with your primary care physician.”

Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that aids in the conversion of sugar, starches, and other foods into energy that is needed for daily life. People with type 1 diabetes, previously called juvenile-onset diabetes, have a total lack of insulin, which requires insulin injections or a pump. Those with type 2 diabetes, previously called adult-onset diabetes, have insulin, but cannot use it effectively and are in a state of “insulin resistance” requiring medications and/or insulin injections.

Know the symptoms

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination;
  • Unusual thirst;
  • Extreme hunger;
  • Unusual weight loss; and
  • Extreme fatigue and irritability.

Also, those with type 2 diabetes may have:

  • frequent infections;
  • blurred vision;
  • cuts and bruises that are slow to heal;
  • tingling/numbness in the hands or fee; and
  • recurring skin, gum or bladder infections.

If left untreated or not managed properly, people with diabetes put themselves in harm’s way for serious complications, such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney damage, and limb amputations, noted Cooper.

Know your risk factors

“Your risk for diabetes increases as you get older, especially if you are over the age of 45,” said Cooper. Additional risk factors include:

  • Being overweight or obese;
  • Having a family history of diabetes;
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle;
  • High blood pressure; and
  • High cholesterol.

African Americans and Hispanics are more at risk for the disease, noted Cooper.

According to the Baystate endocrinologist, you can delay or prevent getting diabetes by following a healthy diet, becoming more active and sitting less, and losing weight in the process.

Diabetes affects both children and adults

Diabetes isn’t just a disease for adults. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly 167,000 children and teens younger than 20 have type 1 diabetes. However, more children today are being increasingly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

“The increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes in youth is clearly linked to their being overweight or obese. The same risk factors for type 2 diabetes that exist for adults, also exist for kids. What makes matters worse is that treatment options for children are fewer than what is available for adults (metformin and insulin only), and that they are more likely to not respond as well to oral medication alone,” said pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Rushika Conroy.

“The other diseases that an adult can develop from years of poorly controlled type 2 diabetes can also develop in children and adolescents in the same amount of time, suggesting that this may be the first generation of children who do not outlive their parents,” she added.

Prevention of type 2 diabetes in youth is no different than it is for adults – involving lifestyle modifications such as increasing daily activity; reducing the intake of calorically-dense, nutrient-poor foods; and increasing the consumption of nutrient-rich foods.

Make an appointment

For an appointment with a physician specializing in adult diabetes, call Baystate Endocrinology & Diabetes at 413-794-7031; for Baystate Pediatric Endocrinology, call 413-794-KIDS.