Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes
Diabetes is a serious metabolic disease, affecting people of all ethnic, racial, and geographic origins, and its prevalence is increasing worldwide.
It’s a weird “silent” disease that doesn’t develop overnight. Its signs and symptoms often sneak up on you, sometimes slowly over-time.
You might experience odd symptoms that come out of nowhere. Some symptoms may be temporary, while others become permanent.
Many people overlook diabetes signs and symptoms because of their chronic progressive nature. Individuals do not consider them to be a serious problem because the consequences of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar or glucose levels) do not manifest immediately.
Most people don’t know that the damage can start several years before the symptoms start to exhibit themselves. This is unfortunate because early detection of diabetes can help in the immediate management of the diseases to prevent vascular complications.
Diagnosis of Diabetes
There are various ways we can gain a diabetes diagnosis; doctors often use some more than others.
The four most common way to diagnose diabetes include:
Fasting blood sugar test
They collect a sample of your blood after fasting overnight. Normal fasting blood sugar level is lower than 100mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L). Fasting blood sugar level between 100 to 125 mg/dL (6.9 mmol/L) is prediabetes and if its 126 mg/dL (7.0 mmol/L) or higher its diabetes.
Oral glucose tolerance test
This test requires you to fast overnight, and then the fasting blood sugar levels get measured. Next, you drink 75 grams of anhydrous glucose and your blood sugars levels are tested periodically for two hours.
If your blood sugar level is over or equal to 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) after two hours, then you have diabetes. If it reads between 140 to 199 mg/dL, it indicates prediabetes.
Glycated Hemoglobin (A1C) test
This test shows your sugar levels for the past two or three months. If your A1C level is greater than or equal 6.5 percent (48 mmol/mol), it indicates you have diabetes.
Random blood sugar test
Your blood test is taken at random and if the test shows a blood sugar level of 200 mg/dL or higher, you have diabetes.
Routine Screening for Diabetes
Physicians or doctors adhere to a specific set of guidelines outlined by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) to conduct routine diabetes screening. The testing is conducted earlier in obese or overweight people or those with the risk factors listed below:
- Individual with a family history of diabetes
- Higher risk ethnicity (Latino, Pacific Islander, African-American, Native American, Asian American)
- Physical inactivity
- High hypertension (140/90), or hypertension treatment
- History of cardiovascular disease
- Women who have delivered babies over 9 lbs
- Having medical conditions linked with insulin resistance; severe obesity, polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Individual with a first-degree relative with diabetes
- High cholesterol
- Being diagnosed with pre-diabetes, impaired glucose, or impaired fasting glucose
It’s not a routine to test children unless they’re overweight or display one or two of the following risk factors:
- Is from high-risk ethnicity or race
- Maternal history of GDM during gestation
- Showing insulin resistance
- Has a family history of diabetes.
Before we dive into the signs and symptoms of diabetes, let’s look at how insulin work in our body.
Role of Insulin and Glucose in the Body
Insulin is an important hormone that’s produced in the pancreases. It plays the role of regulation of blood glucose levels. It controls blood sugar levels by signaling muscles, liver, and fat cells to absorb glucose from the blood. So, insulin helps cells absorb glucose, which acts as a source of energy.
When everything in your body works perfectly, your pancreases secretes insulin into the bloodstream in response to an increase in blood glucose. It produces enough insulin to allow the glucose to enter the red blood cells in your body.
The red blood cells transport the glucose to the body tissue that requires energy, thus lowering blood sugar levels.
In diabetes, your body produces insufficient insulin to manage glucose levels. Also, you may develop insulin resistance. Without insulin, your body cells won’t take in glucose from the blood, so the glucose levels in the blood increase.
What You Need to Know About Diabetes Symptoms
As we said earlier, diabetes is a chronic, progressive disease. So knowing how to recognize its symptoms is crucial to maintaining a healthy blood sugar level.
However, early symptoms of diabetes vary in everyone. Some people might develop easy to tell symptoms, while others will experience rare and weird symptoms.
Here are 8 diabetes symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Acanthosis nigricans
- Slow-healing wounds
- Loss of weight
- Increased appetite
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
Let’s take an in-depth look at each symptom
What is your first thought when you notice changes in your vision? Visit the optometrist, right?
However, vision changes might also be a warning sign of diabetes. High levels of sugar in your blood can affect every part of your body, including your eyes.
Higher blood sugar levels can alter fluid levels in your eyes and even pull it from the eyes, resulting in blurry vision or difficulty to focus on different things.
Acanthosis nigricans (AN) is a skin condition that results in the development of dark patches on your skin, especially around your neck.
This condition indicates insulin resistance. The dark patches might be noticeable only on the creases of your skin, or widespread. The skin at the back of your neck might feel itchy, thicker, and have an odor. Sometimes it can appear on your groin and armpits too.
Acanthosis nigricans occur when there are high levels of insulin in your bloodstream (insulin resistance) which causes your skin cells to rapidly multiply than normal.
However, hormonal disorders (like hypothyroidism and ovarian cysts), adrenal gland issues, certain forms of cancers (like lymphoma and tumors in the colon, liver), and using birth control pills can cause acanthosis to develop.
Feeling fatigued all the time is a common symptom of diabetes. Your body can produce enough insulin but your cells fail to take in glucose, meaning your blood sugar will continue to rise.
Glucose is the number one source of energy for your body. When your body cells cannot absorb glucose you become exhausted and fatigued.
Also, continuous urination and dehydration deprive your cells of energy.
Increased glucose levels in your body make it hard for wounds to heal faster. So injuries, sores, and cut stay open for longer, making you susceptible to infections.
It usually among the first symptom of diabetes, but most people ignore it and fail to seek medical assistance.
How does slow-healing wounds occur?
When you injure yourself, your body initiates a 3-stage process to repair the wound.
In the first stage, the immune occurs to prevent any further infection to the injury. Secondly, new cells form a scab over the wound. Finally, scar tissue forms over the wound to complete the healing process.
Other things can also slow the healing process, like the severity of the wound. If the wound is severe, it would take longer to heal.
However, there’s a category of people who‘re prone to slow healing, including:
- Diabetic people
- People with low levels of human growth hormone
- Individuals suffering from zinc deficiency
- Those with rheumatoid arthritis
- An individual suffering from other arterial and vascular diseases
If you’re diabetic and your blood glucose level is high for longer periods, your wound healing abilities will get impaired, leading to neuropathy and impaired circulation, both of which are necessary for wound healing.
If you notice this symptom early, it’s wise to visit a doctor to get checked up.
You may notice a sudden drop in your overall body weight, even when you eat more or stop exercising. This happens when your body can’t use or produce enough insulin.
Low levels of insulin in your body mean that your cells are not getting enough glucose for energy. Therefore, your body burns stored fat for energy and muscle mass.
This can lead to significant weight loss. Even though you’re burning calories, you’re not burning it healthily.
You’ll develop a voracious appetite. This results from the inability of insulin to bring glucose to the cells, so your muscles get starved.
When your muscle gets starved, it signals the brain, which in turn signals the stomach that you need more food, quickly!
Frequent or increased urination
Increased glucose levels force fluids and glucose out of cells, increasing the amount of fluid delivered to your kidneys. This causes you to urinate more and eventually getting dehydrated.
When you urinated excess glucose, the risk of you getting urinary tract infection or yeast infections increases.
As your cells and tissues become dehydrated, your thirst increases. Increased thirst is a common symptom of diabetes. The more you urinate, the more you desire more liquids.
It’s also important to take about diabetes complications too.
When the signs and symptoms of diabetes go unnoticed, there might be servere consequences like the development of chronic conditions like diabetic ketoacidosis.
Because of this, it’s crucial to understand the complication that arises from diabetes symptoms if left unchecked.
Nephropathy occurs when diabetes damages the kidney. Elevated levels of glucose in the blood cause the kidney to filter too much blood, which is difficult for the kidneys.
Because the kidneys are doing too much work, proteins leak into the urine, resulting in a condition called microalbuminuria.
Acute damage to the kidney can cause irreversible end-stage renal disease or kidney failure, which might require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Hypertension means high blood pressure. This is a common complication in diabetic people. As a matter of fact, 2 out of 3 diabetic people have hypertension.
If your blood pressure falls above 140/90 then you have hypertension. Normal blood pressure falls below 119/79.
There is also a condition called pre-hypertension. This is where your systolic blood pressure falls between 120 and 139, and your diastolic blood pressure falls between 80 and 89.
The American Diabetes Association suggests that people with prehypertension should be provided with behavioral and lifestyle therapy for a maximum of 3 months. If the condition isn’t managed, doctors often treat patients with pharmacologic therapy.
This is a condition where your stomach takes too long to empty. The vagus nerve, which controls the movement of food in the stomach, gets affected with elevated glucose levels.
The high blood glucose levels cause the vagus nerve to suffer from neuropathy, resulting in gastroparesis.
Gastroparesis symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Acid reflux
- Vomiting undigested food
- Feeling full after eating just a few bites
- Changes in blood sugar levels because of erratic digestion of food
- Weight loss, and malnutrition
- Spasms of the stomach wall
- Apart from diabetes, gastroparesis risk factors can include:
- Abdominal or esophageal surgery
- Narcotic pain medications
- Allergy medications
Stroke is a chronic complication that can result from several diseases. However, the risk of people with diabetes getting stoke is 1.5 times higher.
Your risk is even higher if:
- You’ve had a stroke before or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- You’re from a family with a history of TIAs
- Have heart disease
- Have elevated cholesterol
- Overweight or obese
- A smoker
Stroke is a life-threatening condition; therefore, you need to understand the warning signs. If you notice any of the following signs call 911 immediately.
- A severe headache
- Trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance
- Difficulty understanding or sudden confusion
- Blurred vision or difficulty seeing
- Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
- Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
Excess glucose in your blood can hurt the walls of the tiny capillaries that support your nerves, particularly in your legs.
As a result, you’ll experience numbness, tingling, burning, or pain (neuropathic pain) that often starts at the tips of your fingers or toes and progressively spreads upward.
If your leg or hand is numb, you might not feel your extremities, this can lead to injuries like cutting your foot and not feeling it. This can result in an infection.
We previously clarified that diabetes can lead to poor wound healing. This is most likely to affect the bottom of the big toe or ball of the foot.
Because of damage and poor control of blood sugar and blood flow to the feet, conditions like foot ulcers might take forever to heal.
You might need surgery to clean the ulcers to prevent it from getting infected. If the ulcers don’t heal, it would be a sign of poor blood circulation in your feet and you might have to visit a vascular surgeon. If the condition becomes severe, the doctor may mention an amputation.
Your risk of amputation increases if:
- You have poor circulation
- You have peripheral artery disease
- You‘re a smoker
It’s therefore crucial for an individual’s suffering from diabetes to take proper care of their feet by following a diabetic foot care regiment.
The Bottom Line
Consult your physician or doctor If you experience any of the signs and symptoms we’ve mentioned above.
Early detection of diabetes is important because it helps to reduce the risk of developing other chronic complications related to unregulated blood sugar levels.