Pre-diabetes: what to know and what to do about it



As many as 88 million Americans – more than 1 in 3 – are living with prediabetes, and more than 80% don’t even know it! Pre-diabetes is a serious medical condition that causes blood sugar levels to be higher than normal, but not yet reaching the level of diabetes. Diabetes itself is especially dangerous – shortening lifespans and resulting in complications like kidney disease and increasing risk for heart disease and stroke. Because diabetes can result in both unpleasant symptoms and severe complications to the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, nerves, GI tract and eyes, it’s critical to recognize the seriousness of pre-diabetes and make changes before it’s too late. 

The Good News

Unlike some medical conditions, pre-diabetes is reversable! That means you can make changes to your diet, exercise goals and lifestyle to prevent pre-diabetes from progressing. These are a few ideas to get you started!  

Fight Back with Healthy Foods. One of the hardest things for people to understand is how their diet choices impact blood sugar, including how sodas, breads and other simple carbohydrates have a negative effect on blood glucose. This part of the country has a very high rate of diabetes, and that may be due to the lack of understanding about the basic building blocks of a healthy diet. Many people think if they avoid table sugar and candy, that’s all they need to do. 

In fact, foods like white bread, rice and sugary snacks digest quickly and raise your blood sugar in a short period of time. Instead, choose foods low in fat and high in other nutrients – like fruits, vegetables, dairy products, whole grain breads and lean proteins – to help remove sugar out of the blood vessels.

Making Moving a Must Do. The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise at least five days a week or a total of 150 minutes. Moderate intensity means you can talk, but not sing, through your workout or activity. Brisk walking is a great way to keep moving, and swimming is a good choice if you have soreness or joint pain. If you’re just getting started, begin with 10 minutes a day and increase a few minutes each week.

Cut Back or Eliminate Alcohol. Drinking can increase your risk for a host of medical conditions, including pre-diabetes. Replacing alcohol with lower calorie drinks like water or tea makes weight loss easier and helps keep blood sugars in check. If you do decide to imbibe, red wine has very little sugar and spirits like vodka, gin, rum, or whiskey are low in carbohydrates (as long as they aren’t mixed with a sugary soda).

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help. If you’re concerned about your weight or your risk for developing diabetes, your doctor probably is too. Your doctor, a registered dietician or diabetes educator can answer your questions. They can also help you set realistic weight loss goals (if needed) and show you ways to get to your healthy weight – and stay there.

Everyone needs to be aware of their blood sugar levels, and the simple blood test for diabetes is typically covered by insurance. The sooner you know about a pre-diabetes or diabetes diagnosis, the sooner you can make lifestyle changes that can reverse the condition in its early stages and improve your overall health. Don’t have a primary care physician? Visit for a listing of physicians in your area. On the go? CHI Memorial now offers virtual visits

Support When You Need It

If you have pre-diabetes, diabetes or want to make preventive lifestyle changes, CHI Memorial can help. Learning to control your blood sugar through exercise and a balanced diet is key in preventing complications like blindness, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure or nerve damage. CHI Memorial’s Diabetes and Nutrition Center offers counseling and self-management classes that help you take control of your health. For more information, call 423.495.7970.  

Could you have diabetes and not know it?

The initial symptoms of diabetes or pre-diabetes can be subtle – so subtle that you might not even notice them. If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, talk to you doctor.

  • Excessive thirst
  • Using the bathroom more frequently, especially at night
  • Increased irritability
  • Blurry vision
  • Feeling exhausted, even after sleeping all night
  • Slow or non-healing wounds
  • Recurring yeast infections