A diagnosis of prediabetes means you're inching toward diabetes because your blood sugar levels are higher than normal. The condition affects about 38 percent of Americans, according to a September 2015 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

You’re more at risk if you’re 45 or older, overweight, don't exercise much, have a family history of diabetes, or you developed gestational diabetes in pregnancy. You're higher than normal if a test of blood sugar control over the previous three months shows a hemoglobin A1C of 5.7 to 6.4, or a fasting blood glucose level of 100 to 125 milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL.  

What Can Happen

Up to 30 percent of people with prediabetes who don’t make healthy lifestyle changes develop type 2 diabetes within five years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes that progresses to full-fledged diabetes also puts you at higher risk for a heart attack or stroke, and nerve, kidney, eye, and foot damage. It also may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

How to Avoid Drugs

You don’t need drugs to treat prediabetes. In fact, research has found that type 2 diabetes drugs are usually less effective than lifestyle changes for those with the condition. To prevent progression, lose 5 to 10 percent of your body weight, advises Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., chief medical adviser for Consumer Reports (7 to 15 pounds for a 150-pound woman and 9 to 18 pounds for a 180-pound man).

The Power of Diet and Exercise

People with prediabetes who lost about 7 percent of their body weight by eating less fat, consuming fewer calories, and exercising for 150 minutes per week had a 58 percent reduced risk of full-blown diabetes after three years, according to the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program study. And those who maintained a healthy lifestyle saw a 27 percent reduced risk of developing diabetes, on average, over the course of a 15-year follow-up.

You’ll also want to focus on foods that are low on the glycemic index, like nonstarchy vegetables. The index ranks foods based on their effect on your blood sugar. As a rule, the more processed the food, the higher the GI. Have yourself checked for diabetes annually, or more often if your doctor recommends.