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Understanding Glucose Intolerance: What Exactly Is It?

Published on 
January 25, 2024
November 30, 2023
Virta Health
Virta Health
Virta Health

Reviewed by Virta Medical Affairs.

Glucose intolerance includes metabolic conditions that result in elevated blood glucose levels, including prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes.

Having significantly elevated blood sugar can negatively impact your quality of life. Just ask Virta member Derek, who woke up one night during a vacation feeling like “an elephant was sitting on [his] chest.” A trip to the emergency department confirmed Derek had a blood glucose of 395 mg/dL. He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. After 13 years of insulin injections, he decided to join Virta and overhaul his lifestyle. He’s since cut his insulin usage by 70% and has lost nearly 60 pounds. 

Derek’s story highlights the importance of listening to your body and watching for signs of high blood sugar and glucose intolerance. So what is glucose intolerance? 

What does it mean if you are glucose intolerant?

Glucose intolerance refers to a metabolic condition that results from high blood sugar levels. These conditions can include prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes, as well as impaired fasting glucose (IFG) and impaired glucose tolerance (IGT).

Glucose intolerance vs. insulin resistance: what’s the difference?

Although they are related, there’s a difference between glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means the cells in your body no longer respond correctly to insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. Insulin resistance is often the underlying cause of glucose intolerance which is a metabolic condition defined by hyperglycemia (high blood sugar.

What are glucose intolerance symptoms?

Symptoms of glucose intolerance include symptoms of hyperglycemia or high blood sugar, such as: 

  • Increased hunger
  • Intense thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Very dry skin
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tingling and numbness in the hands and feet
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Slow-healing sores 

Uncontrolled high blood glucose is dangerous to your health. In the long term, uncontrolled high blood glucose can lead to:

  • Vision problems
  • Kidney damage
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Depression
  • Digestive issues, including loose bowel movements and constipation
  • Nerve damage, including numbness and tingling
  • Weakened immune system 
  • Sores and skin infections that could potentially require amputations 

Can you be glucose intolerant and not have diabetes?

You can have glucose intolerance and have prediabetes. Prediabetes means your blood glucose is higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. However, while it’s still definitely on the path towards diabetes, it doesn’t have to result in diabetes, especially if you make changes to improving your metabolic health.

The Takeaway

If you have signs of high blood sugar, talk to your healthcare provider. Long term, high blood sugar can cause serious health complications like diabetes.

If you are diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and want to live a healthier lifestyle, Virta Health may be able to help. By making healthy lifestyle changes in a medical setting with supportive resources like 1:1 virtual coaching, you can regain control of your health and feel like yourself again. See if you’re eligible for Virta Health here.

Are you living with type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, or unwanted weight?

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