Diabetes is a serious condition that causes higher than normal blood sugar levels. It is a complex metabolic disease in which the body either can’t produce insulin, doesn’t produce enough insulin, or simply can’t use it efficiently.
Insulin is a hormone made by special cells in the pancreas that helps open up the cells. The cells are then able to absorb the glucose taken from the food that enters the body and converts it to energy.
Types of Diabetes:
There are two most known types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when the body does not make insulin. It is commonly diagnosed in children and young adults but can also manifest at any age. People with type 1 diabetes must take daily doses of artificial insulin to stay alive.
In Type 2 diabetes, the body either produces insufficient insulin or doesn’t use insulin correctly. The cells become insensitive or resistant to insulin. This is the most common type and accounts for 90-95% of all diagnosed diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes is also called adult-onset diabetes because it typically develops after 35 years of age, although it can also appear on younger people.
About 30 million people in the United States have diabetes and do not know it. Early diabetes symptoms aren’t always obvious while some are very slow to appear. For these reasons, many people mistakenly overlook the warning signs. They also might think that the symptoms are the signs of other conditions, like aging, exhaustion or due to changes in the weather.
While some of the signs and symptoms may also be caused by numerous other health concerns, understanding possible diabetes symptoms can lead to early diagnosis and proper treatment. This can help prevent the onset of complications due to diabetes.
The list below contains detailed information on the warning signs and symptoms that a person has diabetes.
1. Frequent urination
Frequent urination is one common sign and symptom of diabetes. People, on average, pee about four to seven times in 24 hours. People with diabetes go a lot more, even at night.
The body reabsorbs glucose as it passes through the kidneys but when a person has diabetes, glucose builds up in the blood and the kidneys are forced to work overtime to filter and absorb the excess glucose.
Polyuria or frequent urination occurs when the kidneys cannot keep up and the excess glucose is flushed into the urine. This results in more urine production hence the urge to urinate more often.
In addition to that, this also increases the risk of urinary tract infection (UTI) in both men and women with diabetes.
2. Increased thirst
High levels of glucose in the blood cause a domino effect in a person with diabetes. As stated in the first symptom, diabetes causes frequent urination ergo it, in turn, makes a diabetic person very thirsty.
The medical term for this is polydipsia. Extreme thirst is an early sign of diabetes. High blood sugar levels already cause this thirst and it is exacerbated by frequent urination.
Frequent urination causes the body to lose a lot of fluids and become dehydrated which would make the diabetic person consume more liquids. Increased fluid intake then causes polyuria.
It becomes an inconvenient cycle.
3. Feeling very hungry
Polyphagia is the scientific term used for increased appetite or excessive hunger. It is also one of the three main symptoms of diabetes.
Our bodies convert the food that we eat into glucose. Glucose is then used by the body to feed the cells to create energy. This process becomes disrupted when the cells become unable to absorb glucose due to the lack of insulin.
Insulin is a hormone created by the pancreas to help the body use glucose. Diabetics are unable to produce insulin because the beta cells in their pancreas are damaged.
The lack of insulin prevents glucose from getting absorbed. As a result, the body constantly seeks more fuel causing persistent hunger.
4. Dry mouth
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, occurs when there is not enough saliva production in the mouth. A dry and rough tongue, frequent pain in the mouth, cracked and chapped lips and sores in the mouth are some of the signs of dry mouth.
When a person has diabetes, the body uses a lot of fluids to make pee to get rid of all the unabsorbed glucose. Therefore, this leaves less moisture for other parts of the body.
If left untreated may cause further oral health problems like gingivitis, periodontitis, thrush and bad breath that persists after brushing teeth and excessive cleaning.
A dry mouth can also lead to loss of sleep and an altered sense of taste, a condition that presents with a metallic or sour taste in the mouth.
5. Extreme fatigue
Fatigue and tiredness are not the same. Tiredness eventually goes away after resting. Unlike fatigue that can’t be solved by resting or sleeping.
Fatigue is a common symptom of diabetes. It can disrupt and interfere with all aspects of daily living. In diabetes, high blood sugar makes the blood glutinous which slows down circulation. This deprives cells of oxygen and other nutrients it needs to sustain the body’s energy requirements.
In addition, high blood glucose can cause inflammation in the blood vessels. When this happens, immune cells go to the brain and can cause fatigue.
It can also be brought about by other diabetes-related complications like dehydration from the frequent urination.
6. Blurred vision
Blurry vision is often one of the first warning signs of diabetes.
The lens of the eyes are flexible membranes suspended by muscles that change the shape of the lens to help the eyes focus. High blood sugar levels inhibit the ability of the lenses to bend. The lenses are not damaged but the eye muscles have to work harder to focus.
Also, high levels of glucose also pull fluid from various parts of the body like the lenses of the eyes. In some cases, the sudden rise of blood sugar levels affects the tiny blood vessels in the eyes. This then causes fluids to seep into the eyes also causing blurred vision.
If left untreated for long, this may lead to more serious complications like diabetic retinopathy and blindness.
7. Wounds that heal slowly
Wounds, cuts, and scratches are an unfortunate and unavoidable part of life but for people with diabetes, these can lead to serious complications. The wounds are slow to heal, do not heal well, or never heal. Sometimes, an infection might even develop.
High levels of blood glucose can lead to poor blood flow and impair the body’s natural healing process. The blood vessels become narrow which slows down blood circulation. This prevents needed nutrients and oxygen from reaching the wounds to facilitate healing.
Although wounds can occur anywhere in the body but the feet are the most common places for injuries. A small injury to the foot can turn into a foot ulcer. Between 14 to 24 percent of those with diabetes who develop an ulcer will end up with a lower limb amputation.
Delayed treatment of high blood levels can severely compromise the body’s immune system. The body has a harder time fighting off infection as a consequence of this.
8. Weight loss
Diabetes causes a person to drastically lose weight over the course of a few weeks to a couple of months. This occurs despite having no changes done in dietary or exercise routines. Most people diagnosed with diabetes first visited their doctors to find out why they’re inexplicably losing weight.
Weight loss arises when the body loses glucose from frequent urination. As more pee is expelled, the body also loses a lot of calories and water.
At the same time, diabetes also keeps glucose away from getting absorbed by the cells. When the glucose doesn’t reach the cells, the body thinks it’s starving and finds a way to compensate. It will, in turn, start to burn muscle and fat energy at a rapid pace. This leads to weight loss.
9. Tingling, numbness or pain in hands and feet
Too much glucose in the blood can affect nerve functions. This complication usually affects extremities (feet, hands, legs, and arms) where nerve fibers are the longest and most numerous.
The clinical term for this condition is called diabetic neuropathy. It is a condition caused by prolonged exposure to high blood sugar. This leads to nerves getting damaged. It usually develops over time after years of living with diabetes but it can be an early sign for some.
Symptoms may vary depending on the kind of diabetic neuropathy a person has. There are four types of diabetic neuropathy: Peripheral, Autonomic, Focal, and Proximal. Peripheral Neuropathy is the type of nerve damage that occurs in the feet and legs or hands and arms. It is also the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. Autonomic Neuropathy is the nerve damage that controls internal organs, Focal Neuropathy is the damage to single nerves and Proximal Neuropathy is the nerve damage in the hips, buttocks, or thigh. This is quite rare and very debilitating.
10. Yeast infections
Yeast is naturally found in the body. They are normally found in the skin and mucous membranes. They grow in areas that are warm and moist like the mouth, the genital area, feet, and skin folds.
At a healthy level, they can keep neighboring bacteria in check and help the immune system do its job. But if a person’s immune system isn’t at its best, overgrowth of yeast may occur and cause infections. The infection can cause discomfort, pain and extreme itching.
People with diabetes are at greater risk of developing yeast infections. Men and women may both get it. Yeast feeds on glucose and they multiply rapidly when blood sugar levels are very high.
Symptoms can grow worse more quickly for people with diabetes than in other people. Also, it makes infections harder to treat. If an infection does not heal, it can lead to serious complications.
11. Dark skin patches
An early sign that a person may have diabetes is acanthosis nigricans. It is the velvety, discolored and thickened skin usually seen in the neck, armpits or groin areas.
This occurs because there is an excess of insulin in the blood. Too much insulin causes normal skin cells to grow at a rapid rate. This makes the melanin (the pigment that gives color to the skin, eyes, and hair) to produce patches in the skin that are darker than the skin surrounding the area.
This condition is relatively easy to treat with proper diet, exercise and blood sugar control.
12. Presence of ketones in the urine
Ketones are chemicals that build up when the body starts to burn fat for energy. The most common cause of this is when there is not enough insulin. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious complication of diabetes.
When there is not enough insulin, the glucose builds up in the bloodstream and can’t be absorbed by the cells. The cells are deprived of energy therefore they burn fat instead. This action results in high levels of blood acid, ketones, forming in the blood and can eventually be found in urine.
Having ketones is a clear indication that the body needs more insulin. Diabetic ketoacidosis can cause nausea, abdominal pain, a fruity or acetone smelling breath, rapid breathing, flushed skin and lack of energy.
High levels of ketones in the body are very toxic and may cause life-threatening complications like diabetic coma if left untreated.
Diabetes is a serious condition and should not be taken lightly. Although it poses many possible disabling and life-threatening complications, if left untreated long, it is a manageable disease. People with diabetes can live full and normal lives. Proper diet, exercise, regular blood sugar monitoring, and other healthy lifestyle choices benefit not just those diagnosed with the disease but those who are also in danger of developing it.
And because symptoms of diabetes are often subtle or nonexistent, especially around the onset, it’s important to see the doctor regularly for checkups and testing. This is particularly vital if a person is overweight or have other risk factors like if diabetes runs in the family.