How to know if you have diabetes

Spotting the warning signs early enough can be the difference between feeling full of life and facing serious complications

While diabetes can come in many forms, there are two main types; uncomplicatedly named type 1 and type 2. The second is a lot more low-key and sneaky than its counterpart (but also more easily manageable); you could be going about your day not knowing that you have it, all the while the warning signs have been racking up over several months or years lying dormant, waiting to surprise you. Often, because the outward symptoms of type 2 diabetes are so meek and mild, some people probably won’t find out they’re diabetic until the condition has wreaked considerable havoc on the body.  

On the other hand, type 1 is a condition without any real cause; we aren’t sure why it happens but we do know it isn’t shy about making its presence known. Severe symptoms can emerge in a matter of weeks, or even days, springing upon you as if out of nowhere.

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Essentially, diabetes results from the blood sugar levels in the body being excessively high. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, whereas with type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin, or cells do not react to insulin as they should.

There is currently no cure for diabetes, however, sticking to a treatment plan can help you manage your symptoms and have you well on your way to becoming a picture of health.

A good place to start is learning what the exact symptoms of diabetes are. And, yes, while having any of the symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you have diabetes (don’t panic), it doesn’t hurt to check.  Early diagnosis and treatment can be the difference between leading a normal, healthy life and facing serious, debilitating complications.

 

What are the most common symptoms of diabetes?

There are some tell-tale signs that are common to both types of diabetes. These symptoms include:

  • Feeling extremely thirsty and having a dry mouth
  • Frequently urination, especially at night
  • Feeling more fatigued than usual and having very little energy
  • Having blurred vision
  • An increased appetite

Experts are yet to discover exactly what triggers type 1 diabetes.  Because warning signs can spring up quickly, it may be easier to establish an early treatment. Early treatment is especially important in type 1 diabetes, as the condition can more rapidly lead to significant complications.  These may include nerve damage, blindness, sexual dysfunction, kidney disease, heart disease, stroke and diabetic ketoacidosis, which can result in a life-threatening coma.

Symptoms that are more specific to type 1 diabetes include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Unintentionally and rapidly losing weight
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Type 2 diabetes is the more common in the general population and factors like being overweight, eating a high-calorie diet, and living a sedentary lifestyle can significantly increase your risk of developing it. Thankfully, because we know the cause, this means that diet changes and weight loss can make the condition more easily treatable, and in some cases, even reversible.

However, because the symptoms develop gradually, it may be a while before you even realise that you have the condition at all. Some of the more obvious signs to look out for include:

  • Frequent yeast infections
  • Slow-healing cuts and wounds
  • Pain, numbness or tingling in the hands, feet and legs
  • Patches of dark, velvety skin developing on the back of the neck, armpits or groin

 

Who is most at risk for diabetes?

Diabetes can strike at any time, at any age; however, there are certain factors that can make you more susceptible to the disease.

Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults, although that’s not to say that older adults are invulnerable to it. If you have an immediate relative who suffers from type 1 diabetes, your risk of developing the condition generally increases.  

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes are a lot more extensive. The main elements that increase your vulnerability to the disease are:

  • Being over 45
  • Being overweight
  • Doing very little to no exercise
  • Being a smoker
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Belonging to certain ethnicities
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having high cholesterol levels
  • Having a history of insulin resistance

 

I’m displaying diabetes symptoms. What should I do?

The moment you suspect that you may have diabetes, it is important that you book an appointment with your doctor. The prospect of developing any type of illness isn’t great, and feeling anxious is normal, but being prepared by seeking early diagnosis and intervention can most definitely help to put your mind and body at ease.

During your initial appointment, you’ll most likely have a list of questions about the condition and its associated symptoms, which your doctor will be able to answer for you. Similarly, he or she will ask you about your medical history and possibly carry out some tests on your blood sugar levels.  

It is quite possible that you will not have diabetes, despite displaying many of its symptoms. Nevertheless, it is important that you get yourself checked out sooner rather than later because it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

 

How can diabetes be treated?

No matter the type of diabetes you have, a healthy, well-balanced diet, plenty of exercises, and closely monitoring your blood sugar levels to make sure they don’t rise too high is the key to keeping it under control.

Other than that, if you suffer from type 1 diabetes, it’s safe to say that you’ll need to take insulin for the rest of your life, in the form of injections, as your body isn’t producing enough of it on its own. In addition, you will also have to do a blood glucose test several times throughout each day to make sure that levels are safe and consistent.

For type 2 diabetics, if your condition cannot be controlled or reversed through lifestyle changes alone, you may also need to consider taking oral or injectable medications, such as insulin or metformin, to manage your blood sugar levels.

If you have a strong inkling that you have diabetes, never ignore the signs; your doctor’s office should be your first port of call. Diabetes is progressive by nature, so keeping a close eye on its activity and customizing your treatment plan accordingly is vital to staying on top of the condition and preventing more serious health complications later down the line.  

 

References

  1. Diabetes UK 2020, What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes?, viewed 3rd August 2020, https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/diabetes-symptoms
  2. Mayo Clinic 2018, Diabetes, viewed 3rd August 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20371451
  3. NHS 2020, Diabetes, viewed 3rd August 2020, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetes/

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