Recognizing the Signs of Diabetes: When to Get Help

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Person testing their blood sugar for signs of diabetes.
Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Saturday January 27, 2024

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Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that affects millions of people worldwide. In the United States, approximately 1.2 million people are diagnosed each year. Characterized by elevated blood glucose levels, diabetes can lead to serious complications if you leave it untreated. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes is crucial for early detection and effective management. If you think you may have diabetes, it’s essential to pay attention to the warning signs and seek medical help as soon as possible.

Recognizing the Signs of Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Unlike type 2 diabetes, which is often linked to lifestyle factors, type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. It’s crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms of type 1 early on to facilitate prompt diagnosis and management.

Signs and Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes 

If you notice any of these signs of diabetes it’s vital to seek medical intervention to ensure a timely diagnosis.

  • Excessive thirst (Polydipsia): One of the early signs of diabetes is an unquenchable thirst. Increased glucose levels in the blood can lead to dehydration, triggering a constant feeling of thirst. 
  • Frequent urination (Polyuria): High blood sugar levels force the kidneys to work harder to filter and absorb excess glucose. These raised sugar levels lead to increased urine production, causing frequent urination, usually at night.
  • Extreme hunger: Despite eating regularly, those with type 1 diabetes may experience constant hunger. The body’s inability to use glucose efficiently results in a lack of energy, leading to an increased appetite.
  • Unexplained weight loss: Rapid and unexplained weight loss is a common sign of type 1 diabetes. The body starts breaking down muscle and fat for energy because it can’t use glucose effectively.
  • Fatigue and weakness: Due to the lack of insulin to facilitate glucose entry into cells, energy production is compromised. This lack of energy results in persistent fatigue and weakness.
  • Blurry vision: High blood sugar levels can affect the lenses of the eyes, causing blurry vision. If you don’t treat diabetes, it can lead to long-term vision problems and even blindness.
  • Irritability and mood changes: Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can impact mood and lead to irritability, mood swings and difficulty concentrating.
  • Yeast infections: High glucose levels provide an ideal environment for yeast growth, leading to an increased risk of infections, especially in moist areas of the body.
  • Slow-healing wounds: Poor circulation and compromised immune function can result in slow wound healing and an increased risk of infections.
  • Fruity breath odor: When the body breaks down fat for energy due to a lack of insulin, it produces ketones. The presence of ketones can lead to a distinctive fruit odor on the breath.

Risk Factors

Factors that may place you at risk of developing type 1 diabetes include:

  • A family history of type 1 diabetes
  • Certain autoimmune conditions, such as thyroid disorders
  • Exposure to certain viruses, particularly during childhood, may trigger an immune response

Recognizing the Signs of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is often linked to lifestyle factors and is a prevalent condition requiring early recognition for effective management. In this form of diabetes, your pancreas begins to make less insulin than it used to, causing your body to become insulin resistant. Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes usually occurs in middle-aged and older adults. 

Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes 

In 2021, diabetes was the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. Like type 1, type 2 diabetes also requires a prompt diagnosis. If you notice any of these signs of diabetes seek medical help.

  • Unexplained weight loss or gain: Fluctuations in weight can indicate type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance affects how the body processes and stores glucose, influencing weight changes.
  • Increased thirst and dry mouth: Elevated blood sugar levels lead to dehydration, triggering increased thirst and a persistent dry mouth. Individuals may find themselves consuming large amounts of fluid. 
  • Frequent urination: Similar to type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can cause frequent urination, as the kidneys work overtime to eliminate excess glucose.
  • Fatigue and weakness: Insulin resistance hampers the ability to utilize glucose for energy efficiency, resulting in persistent fatigue and weakness, even after adequate rest.
  • Blurred vision: High blood sugar levels can impact the eyes, causing blurry vision. Regular eye check-ups are crucial to detect and address diabetes-related vision problems in the early stages.
  • Slow-healing wounds: Poor circulation and compromised immune function in type 2 diabetes contributes to delayed wound healing and an increased risk of infection.
  • Numbness or tingling: Long-term elevated blood sugar levels may lead to nerve damage, causing numbness or tingling sensations, especially in the hands and feet.
  • Recurrent infections: Those with type 2 diabetes may experience frequent infections, particularly in the skin, urinary tract and gums, as elevated blood sugar levels create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
  • Increased hunger: Despite regular meals, people with diabetes may experience increased hunger levels, as the body struggles to effectively use glucose energy.
  • Darkened skin patches: Dark, velvety skin patches may appear in the body folds, which can be a visible sign of insulin resistance.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include:

  • The risk of diabetes increases with age, particulary after 45 years
  • Having excess body fat, especially around your middle
  • Lack of regular physical activity
  • A family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Certain ethnic groups, including African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians, have a higher risk than caucasians 
  • Women with a history of gestational diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Diets high in processed foods, sugars and unhealthy fats

Early intervention, lifestyle modifications and medication can help individuals with type 1 and 2 diabetes lead healthy and fulfilling lives while reducing the risk of complications associated with uncontrolled diabetes. Regularly monitoring blood sugar levels, a balanced diet, regular exercise and medication are key components of diabetes management. 

Don’t Leave It Untreated

Recognizing the signs of diabetes is crucial for early diagnosis and effective management of these chronic conditions. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it’s essential to consult a health care professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

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