For patients who are at risk for diabetes, prediabetes can be an indication that problems are coming. Understanding prediabetes and its signs and symptoms can help you get treatment early, protecting your health now and in the future.

What Is Prediabetes?

Prediabetes occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than average, but not quite high enough to be considered diabetes. Blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is something the body creates from the foods that you consume. A hormone called insulin, produced by the pancreas, transports the glucose from your blood to the cells where it is needed for energy. When insulin is working well, blood sugar levels are at a healthy level — providing needed energy to the cells.

However, sometimes the process of insulin production is harmed. When this happens, the glucose is not metabolized and builds up in the blood, leading to high blood glucose levels. If left untreated, those levels can rise to the point where the patient is diagnosed with diabetes.

How Serious is Prediabetes?

Since prediabetes is not diabetes, many people are tempted to overlook it. However, one out of every 10 people with prediabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes every year. Diabetes can lead to kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, stroke, heart disease and death. Dealing with the problem before it turns into diabetes can reduce this risk.

What Are the Signs of Prediabetes?

Unfortunately, there are no signs of prediabetes. The only way to know if you have prediabetes is with blood testing. If you have risk factors for the condition, your doctor will probably recommend regular testing. Three different blood tests are used to test blood sugar levels.

The first test commonly used to diagnose prediabetes is a fasting blood glucose test. After fasting for a minimum of eight hours, you will have blood drawn. Typically you will fast overnight, skip breakfast and have your blood drawn in the morning. A fasting blood glucose test with a reading between 100 and 125 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is considered in the prediabetes range.

An oral glucose test also involves a fast for at least eight hours. After your first blood draw, you will drink a sugar solution. You will then wait for two hours and have a second blood draw. This test shows how your body reacts to sugar. An oral glucose test result between 140 and 199 mg/dL indicates prediabetes.

Finally, your doctor may use a hemoglobin A1c test. This test will estimate the average blood glucose levels over the past three months. If the test has a result of 5.7 to 6.4 percent, you will be diagnosed with prediabetes.

If you have questions or concerns about your risk for prediabetes, talk to your doctor. With the right testing, you can take measures to prevent prediabetes from turning into life-threatening diabetes.