Diabetes is known as the “silent killer” of the 21 century since a lot of people are unaware that they have it. Some of its symptoms are quite mild so one might dismiss them quickly.
Therefore, it’s important to know what the symptoms of diabetes are so you can treat it as soon as possible.
Here are the seven most common signs of diabetes, and after that, you’ll read why and how do they happen.
7 Symptoms of Diabetes
- Increased thirst;
- Increased urination, especially at night;
- Fatigue and lethargy;
- Itching around the genitals or thrush, a yeast infection;
- Weight loss;
- A blurred vision which might lead to blindness (in severe conditions);
- Slow healing of wounds.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a metabolic disease where the person has high levels of blood sugar (blood glucose). This could happen due to inadequate insulin production, or because the cells in the body are not able to respond to insulin properly, or both.
Diabetics usually urinate more often than normal, leading to increased thirst and hunger. These factors will determine the type of Diabetes – type 1 or type 2.
What Happens in a Healthy Organism?
Once the milk, sugars, and carbohydrates you consume enter your stomach, they are broken down into glucose. Then, the glucose goes into your blood, which is, in fact, your blood glucose level at that moment.
Your liver cells absorb some of the glucose and convert it to glycogen. So, when your glucose levels are low, the glycogen will act as a supply of energy.
When your body feels an increase in blood sugar/glucose levels, it tells your pancreas to increase the production of insulin. Insulin, on the other hand, attaches to the receptors on the fat cell membranes and the muscle in order to allow the glucose to enter the cells.
Once here, the cells are burned to create energy. People with normal levels of blood sugar have optimum levels of insulin, so the glucose metabolism and production of energy occur without any problem.
What Happens in a Person with Diabetes?
Blood glucose levels naturally increase after you eat. However, if your body doesn’t produce sufficient amounts of insulin, or doesn’t produce it at all, your glucose levels will stay high.
Prediabetics are considered those whose glucose level is over 140 mg/dl two hours after eating. On the other hand, diabetics are those with glucose levels over 200 mg/dl.
The liver releases some glucose to make up for the low levels in the body, even if the person is fasting. Still, if their blood glucose levels are over 108 mg/dl eight hours after fasting, the diagnosis is prediabetes. But, if it’s more than 126 mg/dl it means the person has diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes
Juvenile diabetes, or more known as type 1, usually affects people under the age of 30 and sometimes even teenagers. Statistics show that 5-10% of all diabetes cases are type 1 diabetes and that boys are more prone to juvenile diabetes than girls.
The immune system of a body with type 1 diabetes destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Consequently, glucose accumulates in the blood as it’s not able to enter the cells. Over time, the levels of glucose in the blood will exceed the normal levels.
Type 2 Diabetes
With over 90% of all diabetes cases being diagnosed as type 2, this one’s the most common type of diabetes. It usually affects people over the age of 40.
The pancreas of a person with type 2 diabetes doesn’t produce enough insulin. The other case could be developing insulin resistance which prevents the insulin from attaching to receptor molecules on the cell membrane. As a result, glucose won’t be able to pass inside the cell.
Visceral fat or obesity can impede the cells’ ability to attach to the insulin. Glucose is mostly used by the active muscles in the body, so if a person is physically inactive, this could alter the cells and make them resistant to glucose intake.
Still, there’s one type of diabetes that is not serious. It’s gestational diabetes which usually develops in the 3 trimesters of pregnancy. However, pregnant women are advised to exercise and stay physically active to prevent their diabetes progress into type 2.
Why Diabetes Symptoms Occur?
People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes experience similar symptoms, with one difference. Those of type 1 occurs rapidly, whereas those of type 2 might take years to appear.
1. Frequent Urination
The kidneys in a diabetic patient try to eliminate as much glucose as they can as the body cells are not able to absorb it. This means more visits to the toilet as your body needs to flush out around five liters of urine daily.
The urge to urinate continues during the night, so you end up with nocturia. This would negatively affect your kidneys in the long run.
2. Genital Thrush and Irritation
The genital area of people with diabetes is prone to thrush due to the high levels of glucose in the urine. This would lead to itching and swelling.
3. Increased Thirst
The more frequently you urinate, the more water you eliminate from the body. As a result, you feel thirsty, so you have to drink plenty of water to make up for the loss.
The body’s cells in diabetes can’t produce energy as they can’t absorb glucose. This, in turn, makes the person easily tired and drained.
5. Weight Loss
The body of a person with diabetes can’t burn glucose. Instead, it begins burning its fat reserves as well as muscle mass resulting in weight loss.
6. Slow Wound Healing
EPCs are endothelial progenitor cells that travel to the area of injury to speed up the healing process. But, what diabetes does is reducing its number and efficiency, thus slowing the process of healing.
7. Blurred Vision (Vision Loss)
High blood glucose causes changes in the shape of the lens by making them pull water and swell. Consequently, the eye can’t focus as well as before. Luckily, this can be treated with certain medications for diabetes.
Eventually, the blood vessels located in the retina will become thin and weak, and develop microaneurysms (a swelling, or a tiny aneurysm in the side of blood vessels.
These swellings release exudate, a fatty protein that can cause permanent vision damage once it leaks into the center of the retina.
Can You Treat Diabetes
Although there’s no cure for this disease, it can be properly managed. People with type 1 diabetes use regular insulin injections in order to control it. On the other hand, those with type 2 diabetes use regular exercise, and a low-fat, low-glucose diet.
Those with type 1 should be careful not to reduce their blood glucose level below normal, as it can cause hypoglycemia. This, in turn, can lead to fainting and convulsions.
A Risk of Diabetic Ketoacidosis
People with type 1 diabetes have a higher risk of a medical emergency called diabetic ketoacidosis than those with type 2.
Diabetic ketoacidosis develops when the proteins and fatty acids produce acidic ketone bodies as a result of a lack of glucose. So, increased levels of ketones in urine and blood make the blood acidic. In fact, this could be the first symptom of type 1 diabetes.
Take a good look at the following symptoms and if you notice them over 24 hours, visit your doctor immediately:
- Fruity-smelling breath;
- Loss of appetite;
- Vomiting or nausea;
- High temperature;
- Stomach pain;
- Muscle cramps and stiffness;
- A decline in alertness.
The best thing to do once you notice or doubt you have some of these symptoms is to visit your doctor and test your blood. If you like to save the years to come, it’s crucial you eat healthily, be vigilant, and stay active.
Sources: Cure Joy; University of Groningen; Diabetes; The Journal of Clinical Investigation; Kaiser Permanente