What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Diabetes
Diabetes is a condition that reduces a person’s ability to use insulin to process glucose in the blood. The condition takes different forms, and each type produces varying symptoms. Some types may not produce any symptoms, making them harder to detect.

People with type I diabetes do not produce insulin at all, and those with type II diabetes do not make enough insulin and have cells that do not use the hormone as effectively. Gestational diabetes can also occur in women during pregnancy.

Recognizing the symptoms of diabetes early can help prevent its more severe complications as well as minimize the effects of excessively high blood sugar.

Common symptoms

fatigued woman
Fatigued is a common symptom of diabetes.

Type I diabetes symptoms often develop faster in than those of type II.

A person with type I diabetes does not have any insulin in the body, while a person with type II has less effective insulin in insufficient amounts.

The symptoms of diabetes can include:

  • blurred vision
  • fatigue
  • increased hunger and thirst
  • frequent urination
  • numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • sores that do not heal
  • unexplained weight loss

Many of these symptoms occur as a result of the body trying to generate energy despite reduced or misused blood sugar.

For example, a person may experience fatigue and hunger because they cannot absorb enough energy from the foods they eat. They may urinate and feel thirsty more often, as too much glucose can cause the body to get rid of large amounts of fluid.

Some people with type II and gestational diabetes may not show symptoms. Their doctor might identify high blood sugar levels by performing a blood glucose test or a hemoglobin A1C test.

People with risk factors, such as a family history of diabetes or a personal history of obesity, should talk to their doctor.


Complications

Having too much sugar in the blood is toxic to the body. It can cause far-reaching complications, including:

  • Depression: Researchers have identified a strong link between diabetes and depression. While this may be a result of managing life with a chronic condition, they might also share similar mechanisms in the body. Diabetes and depression also often make each other worse when they occur at the same time.
  • Gastroparesis: This condition impairs the ability of the stomach to empty, often as a result of damage to the vagus nerve, which is responsible for sending signals to the digestive tract. Gastroparesis can cause nausea, heartburn, weight loss, bloating, and loss of appetite.
  • Gum disease and dental decay: Diabetes reduces the ability of the mouth and gums to heal and fight infections. Medications for managing diabetes might also lead to dry mouth as a side effect. This increases the risk of tooth decay.
  • Heart disease: According to the International Diabetes Foundation, heart disease is the leading cause of death in people with diabetes. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels and lead to heart attack and stroke.
  • Kidney disease: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 33 percent of people with diabetes have chronic kidney disease. Diabetes can also damage blood vessels in the kidneys, impairing function. The kidneys play a vital role in balancing fluid levels and removing waste from the body. Kidney health is therefore vital for preserving overall health.
  • Neuropathy: High blood glucose levels can cause neuropathy, another name for nerve damage, especially in the feet and hands. People with diabetes become more likely to require amputations of the toes and feet due to poor circulation and damaged nerves.
  • Retinopathy: If blood sugar levels are too high, they can damage the eyes and cause vision loss and blindness. Retinopathy causes the development and leaking of new blood vessels behind the eye. Other effects of diabetes, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can make this worse. According to the CDC, early treatment can prevent or reduce the risk of blindness in an estimated 90 percent of people with diabetes.

Not all people with diabetes experience these complications, especially if they are managing the condition effectively. However, these complications might occur in anyone with diabetes, especially if they do not take steps to reduce blood sugar and treat the effects of the condition.

Gestational diabetes

As gestational diabetes is pregnancy-induced, it usually resolves after an infant is born.

However, despite the limited duration of gestational diabetes, it still has the potential to cause complications in both mother and child.

Women with gestational diabetes face a higher risk of preeclampsia, a type of high blood pressure that can lead to severe problems in pregnancy, including premature birth and seizures.

Infants born to mothers with gestational diabetes are usually larger and have a higher risk of birth-related trauma and congenital anomalies.

If pregnancy is on the horizon or currently in progress, talk to a doctor about gestational diabetes and ways to manage it.


Prevention

The best ways to prevent diabetes in people that do not have type I, which is usually present from early life onward, revolve around monitoring and limiting blood sugar.

exercise
Exercise is a great way to reduce the risk of diabetes.

A low-sugar, heart-healthy diet, such as the DASH diet, is one method of making sure that sugar intake is moderate or low.

Eating food with calories that consist of useful nutrients, rather than empty calories from sugary drinks and processed foods, is an effective way to moderate blood sugar.

Exercise is a great way to ensure that the body is using blood glucose and removing it from the blood. It also generally strengthens the heart and blood vessels, protecting it against some of the more severe complications of diabetes.

Avoiding tobacco use, illicit drug use, and excessive alcohol consumption is helpful for reducing the risk of diabetes. These all put a strain on the kidneys, liver, and heart, and increase the risk of complications.

People who are medically overweight should try and lose between 5 and 7 percent of their body weight in a slow, controlled way.

Receive regular health checkups to spot any increasing blood pressure or blood sugar levels before they become problematic.


Takeaway

Type I diabetes always causes symptoms. Type II and gestational diabetes may not produce symptoms, but when they do, exhaustion, nausea, frequent urination, and numbness in the extremities might occur.

Blurred vision might also pose a problem. A person with diabetes might frequently feel extreme hunger and thirst.

Without treatment, these symptoms can lead to complications. Diabetes complications can be severe and, on occasion, life-threatening. Diabetes can lead to loss of sight, severe nerve damage in the extremities, and fatal heart disease.

Seek consultation about any possible symptoms of diabetes. Managing the condition can help halt the progression of diabetes-related complications.

Q:

I have type I diabetes. How do I manage these symptoms and avoid the more severe complications?

A:

Most people with Type 1 diabetes see an endocrinologist to help manage their glucose as effectively as possible.

Endocrinologists are the best source of information on newer interventionsm such as continuous blood glucose monitoring and closed loop pumps. They can help you decide what is best for you and your lifestyle.

As well as controlling glucose levels, your doctors will monitor you for complications, using routine eye exams, blood pressure check, and urine protein and cholesterol checks, alongside regular foot exams to detect neuropathy.

Not smoking is also critical to prevent complications.

Suzanne Falck, MD, FACP
Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

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