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When Ron Wojcik found out that he had prediabetes, he knew he had to do something about it.
The 77-year-old, who lives in a suburb of Chicago, had been walking 4 miles daily and working out regularly at a local recreation center. But his weight had “spiraled up,” he says, and he worried it might eventually limit his ability to do things he loved, like traveling with his wife.
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“I want to be healthy for however much time we have left on this planet,” says Wojcik, who sees his primary care doctor about every six months and gets routine blood work.
In September last year, Wojcik had an A1C test, which measures average blood sugar levels over the past two or three months. It revealed that his blood glucose had crept into the prediabetes range, between 5.7 percent and 6.4 percent. The threshold for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, characterized by chronically high blood sugar, is 6.5 percent.
More than one-third of Americans have high blood sugar. An estimated 37 million have diabetes, and 96 million have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That raises the prospect of a dizzying range of health issues beyond diabetes itself.
“An increase in blood sugar affects so many areas,” says Louis Philipson, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Chicago and founding director of the university’s Kovler Diabetes Center.
Blood Sugar Tests
A1C test: measures the amount of sugar in your blood over the past two to three months. A result of 6.5 percent or above is the A1C threshold for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. The test measures the amount of hemoglobin, or red blood cells, that have glucose attached to them over their months-long lifespan.
Fasting blood sugar test: measures the amount of blood sugar in a person who has not eaten for at least eight hours. A blood sugar level of 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter is considered prediabetes and 126 mg/dL or above is diabetes.
Glucose tolerance test: A reading of 140 to 199 mg/dL is considered to indicate prediabetes, and 200 is the threshold for diabetes.
To learn more about these tests, see Your Prediabetes Questions Answered.
Symptoms of high blood sugar
Blood sugar spikes can cause symptoms ranging from increased thirst or hunger to frequent urination, blurred vision and unintentional weight loss. However, most people experience no symptoms at all initially. So vigilance is key. Consider having your blood glucose checked if your doctor suspects an issue, you have concerns, you have a family history of diabetes or you are over age 45.
Since learning he had prediabetes, Wojcik has cut back on snacking, carbs and portion sizes, kept up his avid walking and strength training and dropped 12 pounds in the past two months. The result was a hard-earned recent A1C reading in the healthy range, below the prediabetes threshold. “We turned that around in less than six months,” Wojcik says —and he’s intent on keeping it that way.
How low can you go?
It’s also possible but far less frequent for blood sugar to fall below levels considered healthy, or under 70 mg/dL. This can happen for a variety of reasons, ranging from using too much insulin to control blood sugar to not eating enough carbs.
Symptoms of low blood sugar range from fast heartbeat to shaking, sweating, irritability and confusion. Since low blood sugar can be dangerous, you should talk to your doctor about any concerns and how to treat it.