An estimated 79 million Americans -- about 35 percent of adults -- have prediabetes, but the vast majority won't ever know they have the condition.
At least, not until it develops into Type 2 diabetes.
"This is an epidemic," said Robin Hammon, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.
Prediabetes is a condition in which a person has a blood sugar level higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
With prediabetes, the body is struggling to make enough insulin to manage the amount of sugar in the bloodstream, and the body's cells are becoming resistant to insulin, Hammon said. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the cells become insulin resistant, which allows sugar to remain in the bloodstream and blood sugar levels to rise.
Increasing obesity rates and sedentary lifestyles are thought to be contributing to the growing number of people with Type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unlike Type 1 diabetes -- which means the body is incapable of producing insulin and must rely on an insulin pump -- diet and exercise can help to slow or stop the progression of prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.
Research shows people with prediabetes can prevent or delay a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis by up to 58 percent if they lose a modest amount of weight (5 to 7 percent of body weight) and engage in regular exercise (at least 150 minutes each week), according to the CDC.
Without lifestyle changes, up to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will receive a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis within five years, according to the CDC.
"You want to perk up and pay attention if you get that (prediabetes) diagnosis," Hammon said.
To help prevent some of those Type 2 diabetes diagnoses, Washington State University Clark County Extension is preparing to start two sessions of the community-based Diabetes Prevention Program created by the CDC.
Coaches for the 16-week program help participants implement lifestyle changes that will reduce their likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes. The goal of the program is to help people lose a few pounds and create healthy habits, said Sandra Brown, a food safety and nutrition expert at WSU Clark County Extension.
The program focuses on reducing sugar and fat, which have the highest calorie levels, and integrating enjoyable physical activities into daily routines, Brown said. The program also helps people to identify the things that get them off track and the emotions around eating, she said.
Some people are at higher risk of developing prediabetes and diabetes, including those who are overweight (especially those with excess belly weight), older than 45, have a sedentary lifestyle or have a parent or sibling with Type 2 diabetes. Women who had gestational diabetes or who delivered a baby weighing more than 9 pounds are also at higher risk, as are people who are black, Hispanic, Asian or American Indian.
Left untreated, Type 2 diabetes can lead to complications and even death. Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease and stroke and can also lead to other complications, such as vision loss, kidney failure, neuropathy (tingling sensation from nerve damage) and amputations of legs or feet.
"Those are serious things that can happen due to mismanagement of diabetes," Brown said. "If you can prevent the diagnosis altogether you can prevent having those complications."
For people who have already been diagnosed with prediabetes, Hammon recommends not only making lifestyle changes but monitoring the condition with a blood test at least once a year. Those who commit to healthier lifestyles can see their blood sugar levels come down, even reach the "normal" range, within weeks or months, Hammon said.
"The earlier you catch this prediabetes, the better the outcome is likely to be," she said.©2014 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)