Understanding the Early Warning Signs of Pre-Diabetes

Pre-diabetes is a sneaky condition that impacts over 88 million Americans, many without even realizing it. This precursor to type 2 diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of full-blown diabetes. The good news is recognizing symptoms early and making lifestyle changes can reverse pre-diabetes before it progresses into diabetes. In this article, we’ll explore the most common signs of pre-diabetes and what you can do about them.

What is Pre-Diabetes?

Pre-diabetes indicates that blood glucose levels are elevated beyond the normal fasting range of 70-100 mg/dL, but below the 126 mg/dL threshold for diagnosing type 2 diabetes. This state of hyperglycemia is the result of insulin resistance, where cells fail to adequately uptake glucose from the bloodstream. To compensate, the pancreas secretes more insulin. Over time, it can’t keep up, leading to chronically high blood sugar.

Without intervention, most people with pre-diabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years. However, the progression can be slowed or reversed through lifestyle modifications like diet, exercise, and weight loss. Medications like metformin may also be prescribed. Catching pre-diabetes early is key, so being aware of the signs is critical.

Vision Changes

Blurred or fluctuating vision is one of the most common early symptoms of pre-diabetes. Here’s why: elevated blood glucose causes fluid to be pulled from the lenses of the eyes, changing their shape and disrupting focusing ability. You may experience episodes of nearsightedness or farsightedness as a result.

The good news is that for most people, the vision changes are temporary. Once blood sugar is under control, vision should go back to normal. Still, irreversible damage is possible over time, so schedule an eye exam if blurry vision persists. Your optometrist can check for signs of diabetic retinopathy, a complication that damages the blood vessels in the retina.

Fatigue and Low Energy in Pre-Diabetes

Do you feel extremely drained, even after a full night’s rest? Fatigue and low energy levels are very common with pre-diabetes. Here’s why: Your cells rely on glucose for fuel. But when they become insulin resistant, they struggle to access glucose from the bloodstream. This essentially starves your cells of energy, leaving you feeling chronically fatigued.

You may also find you run out of steam faster when exerting yourself physically. Exercise tolerance decreases dramatically. Pay attention to how easily you get winded with routine activities. If your stamina seems to suddenly decline with no other explanation, have your blood sugar tested.

Increased Thirst and Frequent Urination

Excessive thirst and urination are classic signs of high blood sugar. Here’s what’s happening inside your body: When blood glucose gets too high, your kidneys try to get rid of the excess sugar through urine. To accomplish this, they send a cascade of signals prompting your body to release more fluid.

You then feel intensely thirsty as your body struggles to replenish this lost fluid. You may find yourself waking up multiple times at night to pee. The excessive urination then leads you to drink more, creating a vicious cycle. If you’re running to the bathroom hourly around the clock, that’s a red flag worth discussing with your doctor.

Sudden Weight Loss in Pre-Diabetes

While obesity is a risk factor for pre-diabetes, sudden unexplained weight loss can also signal trouble. Rapid fat loss when you aren’t actively dieting deserves medical evaluation. Here’s why this happens: Without enough insulin, your cells become starved for glucose. Your body starts breaking down fat and muscle stores for energy.

While losing a few pounds unintentionally may not raise alarm, talk to your doctor if you lose more than 5-10% of your body weight quickly. Keep in mind that increased thirst, frequent urination, and fatigue often accompany rapid weight loss tied to pre-diabetes.

Slow Healing Cuts and Bruises

Do you notice your minor wounds, cuts, and bruises taking longer than usual to heal? Impaired circulation from high blood glucose could be the culprit. Here’s how it happens: Excess sugar in the blood makes blood cells stickier and more sluggish. This slows wound healing because nutrients can’t reach injured areas as efficiently.

Poor circulation also inhibits immune cells from getting to wounds to fight infection. Diabetic neuropathy, nerve damage stemming from chronically high glucose, also contributes to slower healing. Pay attention to any unexplained delays in recovery from small injuries. It may signal a problem.

Increased Infections in Pre-Diabetes

Speaking of immunity, did you know that pre-diabetes can make you more prone to infections? Elevated blood sugar impairs immune function, reducing your ability to fight bacteria and viruses. As a result, you may find yourself catching every bug that goes around. Or frequently struggling with urinary tract infections, yeast infections, sinus infections, and skin infections.

Hyperglycemia creates a favorable environment for undesirable microbes to thrive. This is especially true for opportunistic fungi like candida. Pay attention if you seem to constantly be battling some type of infection. Also be proactive with protective habits like hand washing, dental hygiene, and skin care.

Changes in Mood and Focus

Feeling more irritable, anxious, or depressed lately? Have trouble concentrating or staying focused? These could be signs that your blood sugar is off. Research shows that high blood glucose causes inflammation which impacts mood and cognition. Pre-diabetes disrupts hormones that influence emotions and mental sharpness as well.

Don’t ignore feelings of sadness, volatility, brain fog, or detachment. High blood sugar affects the entire body, including your mind. Getting back in balance equals better health on all fronts. Talk to your doctor about mood or focus changes in conjunction with other pre-diabetes symptoms.

Dark Patches on Skin – Acanthosis nigricans

Some people first discover they have pre-diabetes when dark velvety patches appear on their skin, especially in skin folds and creases. This condition, called acanthosis nigricans, stems from insulin resistance. The high insulin levels in blood then trigger growth factors that cause skin cells to multiply rapidly.

These hyperpigmented areas usually form on the neck, armpits, elbows, knees, and knuckles. While harmless on its own, dark patches signal metabolic changes brewing internally. Have your blood glucose and insulin levels tested if you notice these skin changes. Treating pre-diabetes can help reverse acanthosis nigricans.

Tingling Sensations and Numbness – Neuropathy

Another skin-related symptom of pre-diabetes is neuropathy – nerve damage that causes prickling, pins and needles sensations, usually in the hands and feet. Numbness or reduced sensation may accompany it. High glucose levels injure nerve fibers over time, disrupting sensation. Neuropathy is often the first manifestation of undiagnosed diabetes.

Early detection and treatment of pre-diabetes can help prevent progression of neuropathy. Don’t ignore tingling, burning, or numbness in your extremities – it may indicate blood sugar problems. Nerve damage worsens the longer hyperglycemia goes unchecked. Save your nerves by getting tested promptly.

Take Away Message

Hopefully this overview gives you a better understanding of the range of symptoms linked to pre-diabetes. No single sign confirms it, but a combination of multiple symptoms warrants checking your fasting glucose and HbA1c.

If caught early, most cases of pre-diabetes can be improved or reversed through lifestyle interventions under a doctor’s supervision. Don’t wait until it progresses to full-blown type 2 diabetes.

Act at the first signs your body gives that blood sugar may be off. Your health is worth fighting for!

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