Prediabetes Warning Signs: These Risk Factors Can Lead to Diabetes

One in every three adults has prediabetes. If you are at risk, you can start preventing type 2 diabetes now.

prediabetes warning sign

Is hypoglycemia a prediabetes warning?

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If you have prediabetes, there is about a 50 percent chance you will go on to develop type 2 diabetes. This is something you want to avoid because type 2 diabetes increases your risk for damage to your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys. The good news is that making some lifestyle changes now can prevent prediabetes. These changes can also stop the progression of prediabetes to full diabetes. [1,2]

What Is Prediabetes?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your blood sugar is too high. Blood sugar (glucose) goes up when you eat. The chemical messenger insulin is released by your pancreas to help get that glucose from your blood into your cells where it is used for energy. [1,2]

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your cells become resistant to insulin or when your pancreas can’t make enough insulin to keep up with demand. If you have prediabetes, your blood sugar is higher than normal but not at diabetes level. You probably already have some insulin resistance or your pancreas is starting to struggle with insulin production. [1]

Early Symptoms of Prediabetes

There are usually no signs or symptoms of prediabetes that serve as an early warning. Rarely, people with prediabetes may develop darkened skin in the armpits or the back of the neck, sometimes with tiny skin tags. Other than this, your warning signs are your risk factors. If you have these risk factors you should get your blood sugar checked: [1,2]

  • You are overweight.
  • Your waist size is over 40 inches if you are a man, or over 35 inches if you are a woman. A large waist means you have a type of fat inside your belly that increases insulin resistance.
  • You have a family history of type 2 diabetes in a parent, brother, or sister.
  • Your diet includes lots of red meat and sugar-sweetened drinks.
  • You don’t get much exercise or physical activity.
  • You are Black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian.
  • You are a woman who has been diagnosed with polycystic ovary disease or gestational diabetes.
  • You have sleep apnea.
  • You are a smoker.

If you have a large waist size along with high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels, you have a condition called metabolic syndrome, which often leads to type 2 diabetes. If you have any of these risk factor warnings, you should get your blood sugar tested. Even if you don’t have any risk factors, the American Diabetes Association says you should get tested by age 45. [1,2]

Prediabetes is diagnosed with several blood tests. Two important tests are a fasting blood sugar and the A1C test, which give you your average blood sugar over the past three months. [1,2]

Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Prediabetes

Treatment and prevention of prediabetes are the same, healthy lifestyle changes. The two most important things you need to control are your weight and your physical activity. If you are overweight, losing 5 to 7 percent of your body weight can help prevent prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. [1,2]

  • Physical activity should include getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. An example would be taking a brisk, 30-minute walk on most days of the week.
  • To help you lose weight, stick to healthy diet that avoids added sugar in drinks and foods, and features lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Limit calories and fats.
  • Work with your doctor to control high blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Don’t smoke.

If you are at high risk for type 2 diabetes, especially if you had gestational diabetes, are a young adult, or are obese, your doctor may prescribe an oral medication called metformin. Metformin is a medication usually given to people with type 2 diabetes but studies show it may also help prevent type 2 diabetes. [1,2]

Many supplements or herbal medications claim to prevent diabetes, but there is no strong evidence that any alternative treatments are effective. [2] Getting physically active and losing weight are the key. There are no shortcuts. If you have risk factors for prediabetes the time to start prevention is now. [1,2]



  1. NIH, Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes
  2. Mayo Clinic, Prediabetes

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Chris Iliades, MD

Dr. Chris Iliades is board-certified in Ear, Nose and Throat and Head and Neck Surgery from the American Board of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. He holds a medical … Read More

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