Diabetes mellitus, commonly known as diabetes, is a metabolic disease characterized by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. As of 2014, about 387 million people worldwide suffered from diabetes.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas is either not producing enough insulin or the cells are not able to respond properly to the insulin produced. There are three main types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes: Also known as juvenile diabetes, it occurs when the pancreas is not able to produce enough insulin.
It is considered an autoimmune disease. Factors that increase the risk of Type 1 diabetes are family history, exposure to viral illnesses, the presence of damaging immune system cells in the body, and low vitamin D levels.
Type 2 diabetes: This is the most common type of diabetes and occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to regulate the blood sugar or the cells are not able to use the insulin properly.
Obesity, an inactive lifestyle, family history, aging, history of gestational diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels are some common risk factors for this type of diabetes.
Gestational diabetes: This occurs during or after pregnancy without any prior history of diabetes. Women older than age 25 and those who are African-American, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Family or personal history of this type of diabetes and obesity also increase a person’s risk.
As of 2014, about 90 percent of diabetic people had Type 2 diabetes, representing 8.3 percent of the adult population. Both women and men suffer from Type 2 diabetes equally.
Diabetes is often called a silent killer because of its easy-to-miss symptoms. Most often, people do not even know that they have diabetes as early symptoms sometimes seem harmless.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications, which include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, foot damage, skin problems and pregnancy complications.
Here are the top 10 early warning signs of diabetes you should not ignore.
1. Frequent and/or Excessive Urination
One of the earliest signs of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is frequent urination with an abnormally large amount of urine. In medical terms, this classic sign is known as polyuria.
When you have diabetes, excess sugar (glucose) builds up in your blood. The kidneys have to work really hard to filter and absorb all that extra glucose.
During this time, the excess glucose gets excreted into the urine, soaking up fluids drawn from your tissues. This leads to abnormally high urine output.
A persistent need to urinate, especially if you have to get up at night to use the bathroom, is something that you need to take seriously and consult your doctor immediately.
2. Feeling More Thirsty
Extreme thirst is one of the first noticeable symptoms of diabetes. Due to frequent urination, the body becomes dehydrated, making you feel very thirsty.
If you drink sugary beverages like juice, soda or chocolate milk to quench this thirst, more sugar enters the body leading to more thirst.
If the reason behind frequent thirst is high blood sugar levels, drinking will not satisfy the thirst. This is not the case when the problem is due to allergies, the flu, the common cold, fever or dehydration caused by vomiting or diarrhea.
If you are feeling abnormally thirsty and drinking water doesn’t satisfy your thirst, consult your doctor.
3. Hunger Pangs
Having frequent hunger pangs is another sign of diabetes. When people suffer from diabetes, they feel more hungry than usual and tend to eat more. This happens because the body cannot regulate glucose that your cells use for energy.
When the cells are deprived of glucose, your body automatically looks for more sources of fuel, causing persistent hunger.
In addition, eating more will not get rid of the feeling of hunger in people with undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes, as this will just further elevate the blood sugar level.
So, eating more will only exacerbate the problem. Speak with your doctor if excessive hunger continues for a prolonged length of time.
An increase in hunger can also be the result of other issues, such as depression or stress that may require treatment.
4. Slow Wound Healing
Cuts and scrapes heal slowly in a diabetic person as compared to a person who does not have this condition.
High blood sugar hardens the arteries, making the blood vessels narrower than usual. This causes less blood flow and oxygen to a wounded area, hence taking more time for the wound to heal.
In addition, elevated blood sugar has a direct impact on the functions of red blood cells that carry nutrients to the tissues. This also slows the healing of wounds.
Apart from slow healing, the wound can develop into an ulcer or become infected. Hence, wounds, no matter how small, require close monitoring.
Make sure to consult your doctor soon if your wound becomes infected or doesn’t heal.
5. Recurring Infections
High blood sugar makes people highly susceptibile to different types of infections. The most common sites of infection in diabetic patients are the skin and urinary tract.
Diabetics suffer from frequent infections, and sometimes the infection recurs. This mainly happens due to a weakened immune system.
A 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism reports that infectious diseases are more prevalent in people with diabetes.
According to this study, a hyperglycemic environment increases the virulence of some pathogens, thus causing infections.
If you keep getting infections, it is important to get checked for diabetes. A simple blood test is enough to know your health status.
6. Unexplained Weight Loss
While obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, shedding pounds without even trying is a sign of the disease. Weight loss in such cases happens mainly for two reasons– excess water loss in the body due to frequent urination and the body is not able to absorb calories from the sugar in the blood.
In addition, insufficient insulin compels the body to break down protein from the muscles as an alternate source of fuel, causing a drop in body weight.
In both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, one of the earliest signs is fairly dramatic weight loss.
Rapid, unexplained weight loss is not healthy and requires further investigation. Hence, make sure to consult your doctor.
7. General Fatigue and Weakness
Fatigue is one of the most common diabetes symptoms that can disrupt and interfere with all aspects of daily living.
Due to high blood glucose levels, the body is not able to respond properly to the insulin and even the cells cannot absorb the blood glucose. This results in fatigue and weakness despite eating properly and enjoying adequate sleep.
Also, due to poor blood circulation, the cells do not get the required oxygen and nutrients to keep your body energetic. In addition, high blood glucose causes inflammation, which leads to fatigue.
A 2014 study published in Diabetes Care reports that chronic fatigue is highly prevalent and clinically relevant in people suffering from Type I diabetes.
Pay attention to ongoing fatigue and consult your doctor to rule out the possibility of diabetes or some other serious health condition.
8. Tingling Sensations and Numbness
Tingling sensations as well as numbness in the hands, fingers, legs and feet are also warning signs of diabetes. High blood glucose levels restrict proper blood flow to the extremities, which in turn damages the nerve fibers. The problem can become severe, ultimately interfering with your daily routine or your sleep.
If high sugar levels are not controlled in time, it can lead to peripheral arterial disease, which is due to poor circulation, or diabetic peripheral neuropathy, due to nerve damage.
Get checked by your doctor if you are experiencing tingling and loss of sensation in your hands and feet, as well as burning pain in your arms, hands, legs and feet.
9. Itchy, Dry Skin
As diabetes causes poor circulation, the sweat glands become dysfunctional, which in turn results in excessively dry skin.
Along with dryness, your skin may become excessively itchy. This occurs due to a yeast infection, dry skin or poor circulation and mostly affects the lower parts of the legs.
Diabetes may even cause dark skin patches in the folds of your skin around the armpits, neck and groin area. Frequent urination and perpetual state of thirst also contribute to dry and itchy skin.
If your skin still feels dry and itchy, despite using hydrating creams and lotions, consult your doctor to find out the underlying cause.
10. Blurry and Fuzzy Vision
If suddenly your vision gets blurry and you are having difficulty focusing and not able to see fine details, it can be due to high blood glucose levels.
High blood sugar leads to changes in the body’s fluid levels. This in turn causes the lenses in your eyes to swell up, affecting your ability to focus. Once the blood sugar level returns to normal, this vision problem resolves.
However, if left undiagnosed, diabetes can cause new blood vessels to form in your retina, leading to more serious eye problems like cataracts, glaucoma and retinopathy.
Although blurry vision may be a sign of diabetes, other common causes are glaucoma, dry eyes, nearsightedness, low blood pressure, an eye infection and even some kind of eye injury. It’s important to have any vision problems evaluated by a specialist.