Today's Medicine

Could You Have Undiagnosed Prediabetes or Type 2 Diabetes? It’s Time to Take Control

Published: Nov. 22, 2022

It’s no exaggeration to say that type 2 diabetes has touched nearly every American.

Of the more than 37 million Americans with diabetes, at least 90% of them have type 2. Odds are that if you’re not living with the condition, you know someone who is.

But what’s perhaps most alarming: Over 8 million people are undiagnosed – living with diabetes without even knowing it. And of the 96 million American adults with prediabetes, over 80% don’t know it.

Given how serious and life-threatening diabetes can be, it’s time to take control. That means taking steps to identify if you have prediabetes or diabetes. If you have diagnosed diabetes, it means properly managing your condition. And if you don’t have diabetes, it means working to prevent it from developing.


The Dangers of Diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common and is characterized by your body not responding properly to the insulin your pancreas produces to convert sugar to energy.

Prediabetes is essentially a step on the path to type 2 diabetes. With prediabetes, you have high blood sugar, and as your body works hard to make insulin, it may begin to develop insulin resistance. You can have prediabetes for years without knowing it – there usually are no signs or symptoms – and the condition puts you at a heightened risk for heart disease, stroke and, of course, diabetes.

If you develop diabetes, you’ll be at risk for range of serious health issues, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Erectile dysfunction in men
  • Eye damage or vision loss
  • Gastroparesis – damage to your stomach and the way it empties
  • Kidney damage or failure
  • Loss of toes, feet or legs

That’s a lot of bad news about diabetes and prediabetes.

The good news? Type 2 diabetes can be effectively managed, and prediabetes can be reversed. It all starts with your active involvement in your health.


Steps You Can Take

Do you think you might be at risk for prediabetes or diabetes? Don’t wait for things to escalate or your primary care provider to say something. There are several steps you can take now.


Know Your Risk Factors

Start by knowing the risk factors for prediabetes and diabetes. They include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being age 45 or older
  • Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
  • Being physically active less than three times per week
  • Having ever given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, or ever having gestational diabetes

People of certain races and ethnicities may also be at higher risk (African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Pacific Islander and Asian American).


Watch for Symptoms

Prediabetes generally has no symptoms, but diabetes has several. They can include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • More infections than usual
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Unexplained weight loss


Dig Deeper and Get Tested

Not sure if you’re at risk for prediabetes? Start with this short risk test from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The test can help give you a clearer picture of your risk level.

If you’re at risk for prediabetes or you have symptoms of diabetes, don’t ignore the situation. Visit your primary care provider. A simple blood sugar test can determine if you have prediabetes or diabetes.

It may be scary or upsetting to learn you have one of these conditions, but awareness is the first step to your response. Together with your provider, you can create a plan that fits your goals. Millions of people with diabetes live normal lives, and, in some cases, prediabetes can be reversed.



Work With Your Provider

Having an established relationship with a trusted primary care provider is important for a number of reasons. Among them is the provider’s ability to identify and address a number of health issues, such as prediabetes and diabetes.

If you have prediabetes, small lifestyle changes can make a big difference and potentially return your blood sugar levels to a normal range. 

  • If you’re overweight, losing 5-7% of your body weight can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Regular exercise, like brisk walking, can also reduce your risk. Try for 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

Your provider can help you with ideas to improve your diet, stay motivated and take other steps to address your condition.

If you have type 2 diabetes, it’s all the more important that you know it and have a plan. Effectively managing diabetes can include:

  • Committing to a healthy diet and active lifestyle
  • Regularly testing your blood sugar and recording the results
  • Recognizing high or low blood sugar and responding properly
  • Taking prescribed insulin or other injectable or oral medications
  • Monitoring your feet, skin and eyes for problems

It can be difficult to adjust to a life with diabetes, but you aren’t alone. In addition to offering care and support, your primary care provider may connect you with diabetes educators, nutrition counselors, registered dietitians or other experts dedicated to helping people with diabetes thrive.


Diabetes Hits Your Pocketbook

Need another reason to take diabetes seriously? The condition comes with financial costs, too.

The CDC estimates that in 2017, diagnosed diabetes caused $237 billion in direct medical costs and $90 billion in lost productivity. And the average person with diabetes had an extra $9,601 in medical costs – twice as much as people who don’t have diabetes.

It’s cliché, but an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. The importance of taking steps to address prediabetes before it progresses to type 2 diabetes can’t be overstated.


It Starts With You

Whatever your health needs are, your Methodist primary care provider stands ready to partner with you. But you are your own first line of defense.

Take time to educate yourself and know the risk factors for prediabetes and diabetes. Listen to your body and take action if you have symptoms. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or concerns. Together, we can chart a course that leads to your best quality of life.

More Resources

About the Author

Dr. Misty Janssen, a family medicine physician at Methodist Physicians Clinic, says that when a patient visits her, they can expect kindness, respect and a teammate on their health journey.

“I want them to know that I have their best interests at heart,” she said. “I have their back.”

See more articles from Misty Janssen, MD
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