By Christina Aungst, PharmD, RPh
Although prediabetes is reversible for some people, a diagnosis is not news to take lightly. There are consequences of prediabtetes if you don’t take steps to control your blood sugar and monitor your HbA1C levels (HbA1C, or hemoglobin A1C, is used to monitor blood sugar levels and can help determine how well diabetes is being managed). Here are 3 serious conditions that you are at risk for if you don’t keep your prediabetes in check.
1) Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
The biggest complication that can come from prediabetes is type 2 diabetes. If you don’t make any lifestyle changes (like improving your diet, exercising, or losing weight) after a prediabetes diagnosis, you’ll have a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 5 years.
Type 2 diabetes is linked to multiple long-term health conditions and is usually progressive (meaning it gets worse as time goes by). The list of problems that go hand-in-hand with type 2 diabetes is pretty extensive and scary. It includes:
- Heart disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Foot amputation
- Erectile dysfunction
- Vision difficulties
Once diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you are always at risk for these other health issues, even if your blood sugar is controlled with medication and your HbA1C levels return to normal. If you can prevent this complication of prediabetes, you prevent the complications of type 2 diabetes as well.
2) Prediabetes and heart disease
The vast majority of studies out there have shown the same result: People with prediabetes have an increased likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). When you have CVD, your blood vessels build up plaque and become narrower or blocked. Those with CVD have a very high risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Over time, high amounts of sugar in your blood damage your blood vessels as well as the nerves that control them. In other words, the longer you have prediabetes, the more at risk you are for developing CVD.
Typically, if your doctor says you have prediabetes, they will keep a close eye on your heart. However, you should also take steps to prevent CVD. Eat a good diet, exercise, and avoid tobacco products. Talk to your doctor about the best way to prevent CVD at your next checkup for prediabetes.
3) Prediabetes and kidney disease
High levels of sugar in your blood cause damage to all your blood vessels, including those in your kidneys. Enough of this damage can lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD). Unfortunately, your blood sugar doesn’t have to be at diabetes levels to cause kidney problems.
CKD comes in 5 stages (stage 1 is mild and usually symptom-free, while stage 5 requires a kidney transplant). Most people don’t know they have CKD until they are in stage 3 or 4. Some symptoms of kidney disease include:
- Changes to urination
- High blood pressure
- Swelling in the legs
Unlike diabetes, prediabetes doesn’t put you at a high risk for CKD. It’s what healthcare professionals call a “moderate” risk factor (meaning it’s not low-risk but not high-risk, either).
So, what does this mean for you? While prediabetes doesn’t always lead to CKD, it does mean ou should be checked more closely for kidney damage. This way, your doctor can catch any problems early.
The bottom line
Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney damage are all serious conditions, but remember: A diagnosis of prediabetes doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get them. Prediabetes is manageable and, for some, reversible. You can improve prediabetes through proper diet and exercise, although some people will also use medication to help them.
Work with your doctor and follow any recommendations they give you. This will give you the best chance at preventing complications.