Treating pre-diabetes

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
October 28, 2008 3:35:56 PM PDT
Millions of Americans have pre-diabetes, which if not treated, can turn into type two diabetes. But if you take the right steps early, it can be prevented. Diabetes means having a blood sugar above a level of 126. Those people are at risk for heart, kidney, eye and nerve disease if their blood sugar remains out of control. But is there a way to find people at risk for the disease? Yes, there is. And it's a condition called pre-diabetes.

Polly Condit doesn't look her 67 years, maybe because she exercises a lot and stays fit. It not only helps her appearance, it keeps her pre-diabetes under control.

"I was hoping it wouldn't happen to me, but my father had diabetes and my brother has diabetes," she said.

Pre-diabetes means having a blood sugar that is not high enough to be considered a sign of diabetes, but a level at or just higher than the normal cutoff of 100. Many of those those patients will get the full-blown disease within 10 years of the diagnosis of pre-diabetes.

"It's under-diagnosed," said Dr. Michael Bergman, of NYU Medical Center. "There are no symptoms, but there is some indication that individuals with pre-diabetes may be more prone to developing cardiovascular disease and eye disease, even at very low blood sugar levels."

Everyone over 45 should be tested for the illness. Overweight and obese patients and those with high blood pressure or high cholesterol should be tested before age 45.

There are two simple tests for pre-diabetes. One is a blood sugar test after an overnight fast. The other involves taking repeated blood sugar tests after drinking a sugary drink.

Treatment is often simply diet control and weight loss. Stephen Michaelman weighed more than 200 pounds when a pre-diabetic-range blood sugar prompted a recommendation for weight loss.

"I didn't take it that seriously until Dr. Bergman told me I was pre-diabetic," he said.

After losing just 14 pounds, his sugar is normal and he needs no medication. For Polly, exercise alone wasn't enough, and she must take a sugar-lowering drug. But she sees it as an investment in her future.

"The medication presumably prevents the condition from evolving into full diabetes," she said.

Kids from early adolescence to early adulthood should be tested for pre-diabetes if they're overweight or obese. For more information, visit or The National Institute of Health's pre-diabetes page.


STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg


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