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Prediabetes 'diagnosis' alarms patients


Nurses who inform patients they have “prediabetes” risk confusing and alarming patients, diabetes charities have warned.

Separate position statements from the Independent Diabetes Trust and Diabetes UK express concern about using the term to refer to people with higher than normal blood sugar levels.

“There is no such medical condition and it is not only misleading patients but also worrying them,” said Independent Diabetes Trust chief executive Martin Hirst.

“We are receiving large numbers of calls to our helpline from people who have been ‘diagnosed’ asking for advice as to what they should do next.”

The charity said it hoped to set up urgent meetings with the Department of Health and other bodies to highlight the situation and discourage nurses and GPs from using the term, which is not recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence or World Health Organisation.

Diabetes UK said it would not use “prediabetes” instead preferring to describe people as “at high risk of diabetes” or as having “borderline diabetes” in some circumstances.

Simon O’Neill, Diabetes UK’s director of health intelligence and professional liaison, said the term was appearing more often including in national press.

“We talk to people who contact us to say ‘my nurse says I have got pre-diabetes’ and we know of some places that have ‘pre-diabetes’ clinics where they encourage people to make lifestyle changes so the term is out there,” he told Nursing Times. “Nurses may see it as an easy shorthand but it may not be as clear or useful for patients as they think.”

He flagged up a recent study in Merseyside that found people at risk of Type 2 diabetes were confused by the concept of “prediabetes”.

“To them prediabetes meant a medical condition that needed medication and to be monitored by their GP,” he said. “They also felt it was inevitable they would develop Type 2 diabetes. BME communities in particular found it confusing and thought they had been diagnosed with something.

“The best understood term was ‘high risk’. Some people found that motivational while others found it a bit generic but that is the term we tend to use.”

Healthcare professionals may also be confused by the term because of differences in diagnostic levels.

A widely-reported study using the American Diabetes Association’s definition suggested more than a third of adults in England could have “prediabetes”.

However UK experts tend to use a higher cut-off point with Diabetes UK estimating more like a quarter of the UK adult population – or 11.5 million people – are at high risk of type 2 diabetes.


Readers' comments (5)

  • When I was told that I'm "prediabetes" though I kind of understoo what it is about, but does not stop me worrying that I might soon develope the full blown diabetes. was geering up to get gagets to monitor myself and looking ways to deal with the "condition" while wondering about the rest of my family. I'm please to know that there is no such condition to be worrying myself about.
    However I'm glad to be told to watch my lifestyle which I took on board.

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  • Also as someone who was recently told I was 'pre-diabetes' by my doctor was some what shocked, as we read in the media it is associated with people who are over weight, etc. I am underweight at just 8.4 st, and rarely have sugar, Exercise daily and live a healthy lifestyle.

    But after discussion with the diabetes nurse, was told I had overreacted. (Which made me feel a little stupid)
    Maybe the media should explain that it is possible to get Type 2 even though you live a healthy lifestyle. We should be informed on a more sensible approach, outlining the choices we have to ensure we are not overwhelmed by this diagnosis.

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  • The use of the term prediabetes is somewhat confusing, as it actually covers a lot of situations, one of which is suffering from insulin resistance. This can be managed through lifestyle changes and adjustments to diet, but may, when identified as being "High Insulin Resistance" require the use of medication to reduce the effects of the condition. When someone is advised they are prediabetic, I think further investigation should be undertaken to identify where the risk factor is coming from so that it can be better managed.

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  • Disappointing to see comments that people are confused by any diagnosis. This reflects on the clinician who gave them diagnosis, as it is at this time explanation and leaflets should be given. The term pre diabetes is being used in some places in place of Impaired Glucose Tolerance or Impaired Fasting Glucose. Regardless of which term used explanation is key!

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  • yes

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