A war on “prediabetes” has created millions of new patients and a tempting opportunity for pharma. But how real is the condition, and is it good medicine?
2018 Study Abstract
We wanted to find out whether raised blood sugar (‘prediabetes’) increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and how many of these people return to having normal blood sugar levels (normoglycaemia). We also investigated the difference in type 2 diabetes development in people with prediabetes compared to people with normoglycaemia.
Type 2 diabetes is often diagnosed by blood sugar measurements like fasting blood glucose or glucose measurements after an oral glucose tolerance test (drinking 75 g of glucose on an empty stomach) or by measuring glycosylated haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a long-term marker of blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes can have bad effects on health in the long term (diabetic complications), like severe eye or kidney disease or diabetic feet, eventually resulting in foot ulcers.
Raised blood glucose levels (hyperglycaemia), which are above normal ranges but below the limit of diagnosing type 2 diabetes, indicate prediabetes, or intermediate hyperglycaemia. The way prediabetes is defined has important effects on public health because some physicians treat people with prediabetes with medications that can be harmful. For example, reducing the threshold for defining impaired fasting glucose (after an overnight fast) from 6.1 mmol/L or 110 mg/dL to 5.6 mmol/L or 100 mg/dL, as done by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), dramatically increased the number of people diagnosed with prediabetes worldwide.
We searched for observational studies (studies where no intervention takes place but people are observed over prolonged periods of time) that investigated how many people with prediabetes at the beginning of the study developed type 2 diabetes. We also evaluated studies comparing people with prediabetes to people with normoglycaemia. Prediabetes was defined by different blood glucose measurements.
We found 103 studies, monitoring people over 1 to 24 years. More than 250,000 participants began the studies. In 41 studies the participants were of Australian, European or North American origin, in 7 studies participants were primarily of Latin American origin and in 50 studies participants were of Asian or Middle Eastern origin. Three studies had American Indians as participants, and one study each invited people from Mauritius and Nauru. Six studies included children, adolescents or both as participants.
This evidence is up to date as of 26 February 2018.
Generally, the development of new type 2 diabetes (diabetes incidence) in people with prediabetes increased over time. However, many participants also reverted from prediabetes back to normal blood glucose levels. Compared to people with normoglycaemia, those with prediabetes (any definition) showed an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but results showed wide differences and depended on how prediabetes was measured. There were no clear differences with regard to several regions in the world or different populations. Because people with prediabetes may develop diabetes but may also change back to normoglycaemia almost any time, doctors should be careful about treating prediabetes because we are not sure whether this will result in more benefit than harm, especially when done on a global scale affecting many people worldwide.
Certainty of the evidence
The certainty of the evidence for overall prognosis was moderate because results varied widely. The certainty of evidence for studies comparing prediabetic with normoglycaemic people was low because the results were not precise and varied widely. In our included observational studies the researchers often did not investigate well enough whether factors like physical inactivity, age or increased body weight also influenced the development of type 2 diabetes, thus making the relationship between prediabetes and the development of type 2 diabetes less clear.
Overall prognosis of people with IH worsened over time. T2DM cumulative incidence generally increased over the course of follow-up but varied with IH definition. Regression from IH to normoglycaemia decreased over time but was observed even after 11 years of follow-up. The risk of developing T2DM when comparing IH with normoglycaemia at baseline varied by IH definition. Taking into consideration the uncertainty of the available evidence, as well as the fluctuating stages of normoglycaemia, IH and T2DM, which may transition from one stage to another in both directions even after years of follow-up, practitioners should be careful about the potential implications of any active intervention for people ‘diagnosed’ with IH.
- Read Dubious diagnosis and The war on ‘prediabetes’ could be a boon for pharma—but is it good medicine?
- Video published on 7 Mar 2019, by ScienceMag.