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Prediabetes: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and More

Did you know that nearly 1 in 3 people in the United States have prediabetes? That’s right, over 88 million Americans are living with prediabetes, and most of them don’t even know it! But what is prediabetes, and why should you care?

What is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Essentially, it’s a warning sign or a precursor to type 2 diabetes. This condition indicates that your body is having trouble processing glucose properly, which often results from insulin resistance.

Signs & Symptoms

People with prediabetes often do not experience any noticeable symptoms, which is why regular blood sugar monitoring is crucial for early detection. Lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthier diet, increasing physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight, can help manage and even reverse prediabetes, reducing the risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes. 

1. Increased Thirst

Prediabetes (1) is a sneaky condition that often goes unnoticed. It’s like a silent alarm ringing in your body, warning you about potential health issues ahead. One of the first signs is increased thirst, also known as polydipsia (2). Researchers have found a strong link between prediabetes and polydipsia.

According to a study published in the journal Diabetes Care, people with prediabetes are more likely to experience excessive thirst compared to those with normal blood sugar levels. This thirst isn’t just your average dry mouth; it’s an unquenchable craving for liquids, often accompanied by frequent urination.

So, what’s causing this thirst in prediabetes? The answer lies in your body’s struggle to regulate blood sugar levels. When you have prediabetes, your cells become resistant to insulin (3), the hormone responsible for ushering glucose into cells.

As a result, glucose remains in your bloodstream, causing high blood sugar levels. To flush out this excess sugar, your kidneys work overtime, removing more water from your body through urine. This constant loss of fluids leads to extreme thirst.

2. Frequent Urination

One study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that people with prediabetes experienced more frequent urination than those with normal blood sugar levels. This excessive urination happens because the kidneys are working overtime to eliminate excess sugar from your bloodstream.

So, how does this happen? When you eat, your body breaks down food into glucose (4) to use for energy. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas (5), helps transport this sugar into your cells.

But in prediabetes, your body becomes less sensitive to insulin, making it harder for glucose to enter your cells. This leads to higher levels of sugar circulating in your blood, causing frequent urination. But recognizing frequent urination as a potential sign of prediabetes allows for early intervention.

3. Fatigue

One reason why pre diabetes may cause fatigue is that the excess glucose in your bloodstream can damage your blood vessels over time. This means less blood and oxygen reach your muscles and tissues, causing you to feel tired and sluggish.

Additionally, when your cells can’t use glucose properly, they start to break down fats for energy instead. This process produces waste products called ketones (6), which can make you feel even more tired and sluggish.

4. Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain

Unexplained weight loss is often a red flag for prediabetes. This occurs because your body is not able to use the sugar from the food you eat for energy. Instead, it starts to break down fat and muscle for energy, causing you to lose weight even if you’re eating normally.

On the flip side, unexplained weight gain can also be a sign of prediabetes. When your body can’t use insulin effectively, it can lead to increased hunger and cravings for sugary and high-calorie foods. This can cause you to overeat and gain weight, especially around your abdomen.

It’s essential to pay attention to these changes in your weight, as prediabetes can eventually progress to type 2 diabetes if left untreated. Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to complications like heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems.

5. Blurred Vision

When your blood sugar levels are too high, it can affect the small blood vessels in your eyes. These tiny vessels are responsible for supplying blood to your retina (7), which is the part of your eye that helps you see clearly. High blood sugar can cause these blood vessels to become damaged and leaky. As a result, your vision can become blurred.

It might feel like you’re looking through a foggy window or that your glasses need constant cleaning. Blurred vision is not the only eye problem linked to prediabetes. You might also experience floaters, which are small specks or dark spots that seem to float in your field of vision.

6. Slow Healing

When there’s too much sugar in your blood, it can damage your blood vessels and nerves. These tiny blood vessels and nerves are crucial for the healing process. They supply oxygen and nutrients to the wound, aiding in its repair.

However, in prediabetes, these vital systems can be compromised, leading to slower healing. Moreover, high blood sugar can weaken your immune system. Your body’s defense against infections becomes less effective.

This makes it easier for bacteria to thrive in a wound, slowing down the healing process even more. If you’ve noticed that your cuts, scrapes, or bruises are taking longer to heal, it’s a good idea to get your blood sugar levels checked. Early detection of prediabetes can prevent it from progressing to full-blown diabetes.

7. Tingling or Numbness

This excess glucose in your blood can damage nerves, leading to tingling or numbness. It’s often called diabetic neuropathy. Nerves in your extremities, like hands and feet, are vulnerable. You might feel like pins and needles or even lose sensation.

Ignoring these signs can be risky. If left untreated, prediabetes can progress to type 2 diabetes, where your blood sugar becomes dangerously high. This can lead to heart disease, kidney problems, and more.

8. Darkened Skin

Darkened skin, a condition known as acanthosis nigricans (8), can be a warning sign of prediabetes. Acanthosis nigricans often appear as dark, thickened patches of skin, usually in the folds and creases of the body.

Common areas affected include the neck, armpits, groin, and the back of the knees. These patches may feel velvety to the touch. The link between darkened skin and prediabetes is due to insulin resistance.

When your body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar, your blood sugar levels can rise. In response to this, your body produces more insulin, and this excess insulin can lead to skin changes like acanthosis nigricans.

9. Increased Hunger

When your body has prediabetes, it struggles to use the sugar from the food you eat effectively. This leads to higher levels of glucose in your blood. As a result, your cells don’t get the energy they need, leaving you feeling hungry more often.

You might notice that you’re hungry shortly after eating a meal, even if it is a substantial one. This constant hunger can be confusing and frustrating, but it’s your body’s way of signaling that something is not quite right.

Increased hunger is your body’s response to high blood sugar levels. It’s trying to get more energy because the glucose isn’t getting into your cells efficiently. This can lead to overeating and weight gain, which are risk factors for diabetes.


Prediabetes is a condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Understanding its causes can help you take steps to prevent it. There are four main causes of prediabetes.

  • Unhealthy Diet: One major cause of prediabetes is an unhealthy diet. Consuming too many sugary foods and drinks, as well as processed foods high in refined carbohydrates, can lead to weight gain and insulin resistance. Your body’s ability to use insulin effectively diminishes when you consistently eat unhealthy foods.
  • Lack of Physical Activity: A sedentary lifestyle is another contributor to prediabetes. When you don’t get enough physical activity, your muscles don’t use glucose for energy efficiently. Regular exercise helps your body become more sensitive to insulin, lowering your risk of prediabetes.
  • Genetics and Family History: Your genes play a role in your risk for prediabetes. If you have a family history of diabetes, your risk increases. Some genetic factors can affect how your body processes glucose, making it harder to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. However, genetics is just one piece of the puzzle, and lifestyle factors also play a significant role.
  • Excess Body Weight: Extra body fat, especially around the abdomen, can lead to insulin resistance. Fat cells release chemicals that interfere with insulin’s action, making it difficult for your body to regulate blood sugar levels properly. Losing even a small amount of weight can help reduce your risk of prediabetes.

Treatment & Prevention

The good news is that there are steps you can take to treat and prevent prediabetes from progressing into full-blown diabetes. One of the most important things you can do is to make healthy changes to your diet. Focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Avoid sugary drinks, and limit your intake of sweets and processed foods. Eating smaller, balanced meals throughout the day can help stabilize your blood sugar levels. Regular physical activity is another key factor in managing prediabetes. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking, each week.

Exercise helps your body use insulin more effectively and can lower your blood sugar levels.Losing weight can also be beneficial. Even losing a small amount of weight, like 5-10 percent of your body weight, can make a big difference in managing prediabetes.

Monitoring your blood sugar regularly is essential. Your doctor can recommend a testing schedule that’s right for you. This helps you keep track of your progress and make necessary adjustments to your treatment plan. Medications may be prescribed by your doctor if lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to manage your prediabetes. These medications can help lower your blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Risk factors

Several risk factors increase your chances of developing prediabetes. Here are some of them:

  • Family History: If your parents or siblings have diabetes, you’re more likely to develop prediabetes. Genetics plays a role in your risk.
  • Age: As you get older, your risk of prediabetes increases. It’s more common in people over 45.
  • Lack of Physical Activity: If you’re not active and spend most of your time sitting, your risk goes up. Exercise helps your cells use insulin effectively.
  • High Blood Pressure: Having high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is linked to prediabetes. It can harm your blood vessels and make insulin resistance worse.
  • Gestational Diabetes: If you had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes), you’re at a higher risk of developing prediabetes later in life.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Women with PCOS (9) are more likely to have insulin resistance, which increases the risk of prediabetes.
  • Sleep Problems: Not getting enough quality sleep can affect your blood sugar levels and increase your risk.
  • Ethnicity: Some ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans, have a higher risk of prediabetes.
  • Smoking: Smoking is harmful in many ways, and it also increases the risk of developing prediabetes.


Detecting prediabetes early is essential because it can be a warning sign of future health problems. Here’s how prediabetes is diagnosed:

  • Blood Sugar Tests: Doctors use blood sugar tests to diagnose prediabetes. The most common test is the Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG) test. You’ll need to fast (not eat) for at least 8 hours before this test. If your blood sugar level is between 100 and 125 mg/dL, you may have prediabetes.
  • Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) (10): This test requires fasting overnight, followed by drinking a sugary solution. Your blood sugar is then tested at specific intervals. If your blood sugar level is between 140 and 199 mg/dL two hours after drinking the solution, it suggests prediabetes.
  • Hemoglobin A1c Test: The A1c test measures your average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months. An A1c level between 5.7% and 6.4% indicates prediabetes.
  • Risk Factors: Sometimes, doctors diagnose prediabetes based on risk factors alone. These factors include being overweight, having a family history of diabetes, and leading a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Regular Check-ups: It’s crucial to have regular check-ups with your healthcare provider. They can monitor your blood sugar levels and assess your risk for prediabetes, especially if you have risk factors.


In conclusion, recognizing the symptoms of prediabetes is crucial for taking early action to prevent the development of full-blown diabetes.

Symptoms like increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss can be warning signs. It’s important to listen to your body and consult a healthcare professional if you notice these signs.

With lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and weight management, you can lower your risk of progressing to diabetes and lead a healthier, happier life. Remember, early detection and proactive steps are key to managing prediabetes effectively.