Are you wondering if you or a loved one might have diabetes? If you are at all concerned, you will want to educate yourself about the symptoms of diabetes, which can range from mild (almost undetectable) to severe. Diabetes is a first world epidemic; in fact, it is considered one of the most undiagnosed medical conditions affecting Americans. It is a serious medical condition that can be prevented or treated through lifestyle changes, especially if detected while in the early stages (known as pre-diabetes).
According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 25.8 million Americans have diabetes. Of those people, only 18.8 million have actually been diagnosed – approximately seven million Americans are not yet aware of the fact that they have diabetes. The American Diabetes Association estimates that 79 million Americans are pre-diabetic, meaning they are showing the early signs of diabetes and will require medical treatment for diabetes in the following ten years if they do not make significant lifestyle changes.
These statistics were taken from the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet published in January of 2011. The number of people diagnosed with diabetes is steadily rising, increasing each year. Diabetes is a potentially fatal medical condition linked to kidney failure, heart problems, circulation problems and vision impairment. This is why you will want to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of diabetes. You will want to make lifestyle changes and get medical attention as soon as possible in order to slow or reverse the impact of diabetes on your overall health.
Diabetes is a condition in which your body has trouble metabolizing sugar properly. When you eat food or drink beverages containing calories, your body uses insulin to convert the calories into glucose, or blood sugar. Your body then uses that glucose to fuel everyday activities or stores the excess glucose as fat for future use.
People with diabetes have problems with either the production of insulin or the use of insulin. A small percentage of the people affected by this condition have Type I diabetes, a condition in which their bodies do not produce enough insulin at all. However, most people who contract diabetes develop Type II diabetes, in which the body stops using insulin properly, and as a result, the body stops producing adequate amounts of insulin. In either case, people with diabetes do not process blood sugar properly without medical assistance, and as a result, are vulnerable to having too much or too little glucose in the bloodstream. If your blood sugar is too high or too low you will be at risk of passing out or even dying.
Most people figure out they have diabetes long before they have a seizure or pass out. However, there are many other telltale signs that can alert you to the fact that you are developing diabetes (pre-diabetic). Once you know you have diabetes (or are at high risk of developing diabetes), you can take steps to delay, prevent or lessen the progression of your medical condition.
SYMPTOMS OF DIABETES
Are you using the restroom more often than usual? If your body is not producing enough insulin (or using it properly), your kidneys will be working overtime to filter all the extra glucose in your blood stream. Extra water will be extracted from your body as it tries to eliminate the extra glucose, which will cause you to urinate more often.
The big question is, of course, how much is too much?
If you’ve always been a person who needs to urinate frequently, you don’t need to be concerned. However, if this is a new situation, you will want to see your doctor to find out why you are urinating so often. It could be something as simple as a prolaspsed bladder or uterus (common in women who have been pregnant or given birth or simply have aged) or an untreated UTI (urinary tract infection). You might simply have an overactive bladder, or you may have started drinking more and now need to urinate more frequently.
However, if your increased need to void your bladder cannot be explained away, you should ask to be screened for diabetes.
As your body struggles to process the extra glucose on your blood stream, your body will become dehydrated as you urinate more often. This will cause you to be more thirsty and need to drink more. Your body is desperately trying to flush out the extra blood sugar to avoid hyperglycemia. Get screened for diabetes if you are always thirsty and can’t seem to get enough to drink.
Because your body is not metabolizing sugar properly, your cells are no longer getting the nutrients they need. Your body is now working overtime to deal with blood sugar highs and lows. If you’re always hungry and can’t understand why, you will want to get screened.
Feeling tired most of the time? Getting up multiple times a night to use the restroom? Do you rely on caffeine to get through the day? People with diabetes get accustomed to feeling tired all the time. When finally treated, they often remark that they didn’t realize how exhausted they were all the time until they got their blood sugar under control.
Have you noticed that your vision has become blurry? Diabetes affects your eyes through something called diabetic retinopathy. This is a problem where the blood vessels of the retina are damaged due to the excess glucose in your blood stream. This extra glucose also changes the shape of your lens inside your eye, causing possible flashes of light. At first, you will just notice slightly burred vision, floaters, and shadows (or spots where you have blurry vision). As time passes, your eyesight will diminish and you will be at increased risk for retina detachment, blood shot eyes, vision loss and cataracts.
Don’t assume diminished vision is due to age. It’s natural for people to need bifocals or readers as they age (especially for reading things up close), but blurry vision, floaters, and shadows should alert you to get screened for diabetes, just in case.
Sudden Rapid Weight Loss
It might seem like a dream come true – you’ve suddenly lost ten or twenty pounds in a couple months and you don’t even know how or why. Unfortunately, this isn’t a good thing. It’s really a sign that your cells aren’t getting nutrition. As a result, your body has started breaking down the protein in your body (muscle tissue, organ tissue) for energy, causing you to suddenly lose weight. If you are experiencing unexplained weight loss (especially if accompanied by extreme fatigue), get screened for diabetes.
Your Breath Smells Different
Does your breath smell like acetone?
If your gums are red, swollen, painful or pulling away from your teeth, this may be a sign that you have diabetes. The high blood sugar in your bloodstream makes it more challenging for your body to resist infection, which can cause periodontal problems. If you have sore gums, get screened for diabetes at your next physical.
Inclination Toward Yeast or Fungal Infections
Diabetes suppresses your immune system to a degree, making you more susceptible to both yeast and fungal infections. Yeast in particular thrives in a high-sugar environment. If you get recurring yeast infections or can’t get rid of that athlete’s foot, get screened for diabetes.
Itchy Skin or Dark Patches of Skin
Have you noticed your skin is suddenly dry and itchy? Are you developing dark patches of skin, especially around your neck or in your armpits? Itchy skin can be the result of poor circulation (again, due to diabetes) and the darkening of skin, called acanthosis nigricans, is a good indication that your body is developing a resistance to the usage of whatever insulin is still being produced. Get screened for diabetes if you have either of these symptoms.
Delayed Healing of Bruises or Cuts
Have you had that bruise on your leg for a couple weeks instead of a few days? Do you find that cuts on your hands or feet take an excessive time to heal?
Diabetics have to be careful about getting bruised or cut because their bodies no longer heal quickly. This is because the blood vessels have been damaged by the copious amounts of glucose flowing through them. As blood vessels are damaged, they are less able to deliver necessary healing agents to wounds.
This is a red flag symptom that should send you to the doctor’s office for a screening sooner than later. While a lot of these other symptoms can be explained away by other circumstances, slow healing is a definite symptom of diabetes. In fact, untreated diabetes can lead to uncontrollable infections or such poor circulation that you may require amputation of a foot or leg. Get screened if you are not healing normally.
Unusual Sensations in Hands or Feet
Tingling, searing pain and numbness of extremities are also red flag symptoms of diabetes. These symptoms come as the result of impaired circulation – they mean diabetes is well under way and blood vessels are unable to accommodate the needs of your hands and feet. Your nerves are actually getting damaged, and this might have long-term effects, resulting in your inability to balance well (due to loss of feeling in feet) or loss of fine motor skills in your hands. Get screened right away to find out why you are experiencing these concerning symptoms.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU SUSPECT YOU HAVE DIABETES?
If you have three or more of the symptoms mentioned above, you will want to schedule a physical with your doctor and request to be screened for diabetes. Tell your doctor why you are concerned, and investigate the symptoms of concern until you understand why you are experiencing those particular symptoms. Make sure your doctor rules out diabetes and has another explanation for the symptoms.
Diabetics are instructed to manage their weight and monitor their blood sugar level through diet and exercise. You can take actions to prevent ever developing diabetes by pretending you have been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Educate yourself on how to eat a low-sugar, high protein and vegetable diet. Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Switch to “healthy” sugar-free sodas such as Zevia, La Croix, Hansen’s, etc. that are often sweetened with Stevia and/or Erythritol and stop sweetening your coffee or tea. Limit your intake of sweets, processed foods and simple carbohydrates. These lifestyle changes may prevent you from ever developing diabetes.
Take a cue from diabetic celebrities. NFL starting quarterback Jay Cutler did not realize he had diabetes until he suddenly lost 35 pounds and experienced debilitating fatigue. Actress Halle Berry didn’t realize she had diabetes until she passed out during a photo shoot. Miss America Vanessa Williams has used her diabetes as an impetus to educate children – she wrote a children’s book on healthy living and has undertaken the mission of helping parents understand how to care for diabetic children.
Take precautions to determine if you have diabetes (or are at risk), and take action today. Ask your doctor to include a screening at your next physical. Whatever the results of the test, you’ll be glad you explored the possibilities before it’s too late.