While more than 5.7 million Canadians live with either type 1 or type 2 diagnosed diabetes, six million Canadians show symptoms of prediabetes – a condition that, if left untreated, can develop into the more serious type 2.
Prediabetes and diabetes
Diabetes occurs when your body either can’t produce insulin, or properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin controls your blood sugar – too much or too little can have a devastating impact on your health. Too much insulin can damage the organs, leading to kidney failure or blindness, among others. Too little can lead to seizures or coma.
When your body can’t regulate its blood sugar, you’ll have to take steps to manually control it through diet, exercise and possibly medication.
Prediabetes happens when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not actually high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Some patients may be surprised when they’re diagnosed, because not everyone has symptoms.
For those that do, symptoms roughly mirror type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which include:
- unusual thirst
- frequent urination
- weight change (gain or loss)
- extreme fatigue or lack of energy
- blurred vision
- frequent or recurring infections
- cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
- tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- trouble getting or maintaining an erection
“After getting a prediabetes diagnosis, you may experience a mix of emotions such as shock, fear, sadness, lack of control or even denial,” says Dina Daniello-Santiago, a registered dietitian with Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program.
“It’s important to understand that these feelings and emotions are all normal – there is no need to worry,” she says. "A prediabetes diagnosis does not automatically mean you will develop type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, there are still some things you can do that can make a huge difference. Look at this diagnosis as your ‘second chance’ and don't take it for granted. Take this opportunity to grab hold of your health and be proactive.”
Healthy lifestyle strategies can help control – and even reverse – prediabetes. These include:
- weight management
- eating balanced meals
- limiting foods with added sugar
- increasing fiber intake
- increasing physical activity
“Speaking with a dietitian to come up with an individualized plan can be very beneficial,” Daniello-Santiago says. “A dietitian can help you overcome any obstacles you may encounter and answer any questions you have.”
A dietitian can help determine what therapy is best for you - for both short- and long-term healthy lifestyle goals. When diagnosed with prediabetes, it is important to understand how food and nutrition, along with physical activity and lifestyle choices, can affect the body in order to successfully manage the condition.
“It is normal to feel nervous about making some changes, but rest assured these changes will help improve your overall quality of life,” she says. “A dietitian will work with you to set goals that you feel are realistic. Taking small steps can help you adapt to lifestyle changes more easily, so you don’t become overwhelmed.”
Myths about prediabetes help to create a misinformed stigma and are potentially harmful. Daniello-Santiago offers rebuttals to some of the more common myths.
MYTH: Prediabetes is not a health condition – therefore, it is not necessary to make any changes.
“Prediabetes is a serious health condition as it does in fact increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and the health conditions associated with the disease.”
MYTH: Medication is the only effective treatment for prediabetes.
“If caught early, prediabetes can typically be reversed with lifestyle modifications. Depending on how high your blood sugar is when you're first diagnosed, it is possible your doctor may suggest medication in order to get your blood sugar (glucose) back down to a healthy level.”
MYTH: When diagnosed with prediabetes you should avoid carbohydrates.
“You don’t need to cut out carbohydrates. Everyone reacts differently to carbohydrates, so it is important to monitor your blood sugar levels to ensure that these foods don’t cause you to go out of the recommended range. There certainly is not a ‘one-size-fits-all' recommendation. This is why it is important to meet with a dietitian to assist in determining an individualized plan.”
MYTH: Prediabetes always turns into diabetes.
“Prediabetes does increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, but it does not guarantee that you will get type 2 diabetes. Think of it as a ‘wake-up call’ to make some lifestyle changes.”
Counselling support from Manitoba Blue Cross
If you want to talk to someone, Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get support. Begin the process here.
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