Before it became “pre-diabetes,” we called the state where blood sugar is above normal levels but below the threshold for type 2 diabetes “borderline diabetes.” This, of course, was back in the days before type 2 diabetes became epidemic. Back then it was still referred to as “adult-onset diabetes” because it primarily affected those middle-aged and over.
As the demographic of people with type 2 diabetes changed, so did the way we talk about it. Today, you’ll seldom hear it called “adult-onset” diabetes because it’s increasingly affecting teens and children. The way we talk about that precarious state between healthy blood sugar and full-fledged type 2 diabetes has also changed, and we would argue that this is not necessarily a good thing.
“Borderline diabetes” is more visceral and emotional than “pre-diabetes,” and maybe a better description. When you have pre-diabetes, you are on the borderline—the borderline between health and chronic illness. And the actions you take—or lack of action—can affect your health for the rest of your life.
Does pre-diabetes eventually become type 2 diabetes?
There’s a common belief that once you’re diagnosed with pre-diabetes you will eventually become diabetic. People tend to view pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes as a continuum beginning with pre-diabetes, progressing through early type 2 diabetes, and ending with late-stage type 2 diabetes and insulin dependence.
And too often this is what does occur. Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes are two points on the spectrum of normal-to-abnormal blood glucose and insulin levels. However, it’s not a linear trajectory where once you start on the path to abnormal you’re doomed to follow it to the bitter end.
Yes, pre-diabetes often does progress to full-blown type 2 diabetes—but the progression is certainly not inevitable. And this where the concept of “borderline diabetes” may be more useful than the more fatalistic “pre-diabetes” label.
How long does it take pre-diabetes to progress to type 2 diabetes?
“Borderline” suggests that you’re nearing a boundary—in this case blood sugar over 126 mg/dL. This is the boundary or border that separates “pre-diabetes” from type 2 diabetes. “Borderline” also suggests that you may cross that boundary…but then again you may not.
And this is absolutely true. Depending on your diet and lifestyle, you may exist in that pre-diabetic “borderline” state for mere months before you develop type 2 diabetes, or you may be “on the borderline” for years or even decades. In some cases, you may never develop full-fledged diabetes at all.
While most people diagnosed with pre-diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years, simple lifestyle changes can stop short your progression along the diabetes continuum. Changing your eating and exercise habits can ensure that pre-diabetes never becomes type 2 diabetes, and can even return your blood sugar to normal levels.
So how long does it take pre-diabetes to become type 2 diabetes? The honest answer is that it depends entirely upon you. If you see “pre-diabetes” as “pre-destined to develop diabetes” and you make no changes in your diet and lifestyle, you can expect to follow the path to type 2 diabetes within 5 – 10 years.
If, however, you see “borderline diabetes” for what it is—a warning of a boundary or border you don’t want to cross drawing near—you can take action. You can make the changes that will return you to health before you progress over the boundary line.