What are the early signs of diabetes?

Recognizing these 12 tell-tale signs in time could mean the difference between receiving proper treatment and making health matters worse

The start of all diseases is pretty much the same; when certain cells and organs within the body fail to do their job effectively, it can cause all sorts of complications that prevent it from running as it should, and diabetes is no exception.

Diabetes develops when blood sugar levels (or glucose levels) become unusually high because the body is unable to convert glucose into energy to feed its cells. Normally, a hormone known as insulin that is produced in the pancreas works to convert the glucose from food, into fuel.  When the body either fails to produce enough insulin, doesn’t produce any at all, or becomes resistant to it, your health can take a turn for the worse.

Diabetes of the type 2 kind is much more common but, thankfully, easier to manage through simple diet and lifestyle changes, as compared to its type 1 counterpart. With that said, type 2 symptoms can often be much tougher to spot, especially in the early stages, because of their slow and subtle nature.  Type 1 symptoms tend to be more abrupt and severe.

While neither condition is currently curable, they can most certainly be kept under reigns with the right treatment; the earlier you are diagnosed, the less chance you have of developing severe and even life-threatening complications.

Read on to get clued up on the warning signs of the condition, so you can catch it while it’s still in its early stages.

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What are the initial tell-tale signs and symptoms of diabetes?

If you’re unsure of whether diabetes is silently creeping up on you, these are the most obvious early tell-tale signs. A lot of these initial indications are fairly vague, so if you’re displaying any of them, it’s important to immediately assume you are diabetic.  However, it’s worth mentioning the symptoms to your doctor as it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

  • Frequently urinating: When the body is unable to shift excess sugar from the blood through conventional means, it resorts to using the kidneys to filter it out, which leads to a person needing to pee more frequently, especially at night.
  • Excessive thirst and dry mouth: Naturally, the more you pee the more water your body loses, resulting in a dry mouth and feeling thirstier than normal.
  • Feeling hungry: Because diabetes prevents the body from absorbing the glucose from food and feeding it to cells, sufferers often feel hungry, regardless of how much or how recently they have eaten.
  • Itching and yeast infections: Yeast tends to thrive in warm, moist areas such as the mouth, underarms and genital areas, and because it feeds off sugar, excess amounts in the blood and urine can cause frequent yeast infections.
  • Fatigue: Depleted energy levels can be attributed to the body's inability to convert sugar into energy, owing to insulin deficiency.
  • Blurred vision: Abnormally-high blood sugar can increase fluid levels in the eyes, which can damage blood vessels and lead to blurry vision. If left untreated, the damage can become so severe that it could result in a permanent loss of vision.  
  • Dark patches of skin: Darkened skin that is velvety to the touch can develop on certain areas of the body such as the armpits, neck, knuckles, and groin, due to high levels of insulin in the blood.
  • Slow-healing cuts and wounds: High blood sugar levels can disrupt blood flow and cause nerve damage, making it more difficult to recover from cuts, sores, and wounds.
  • Sudden or unintentional weight loss: Because diabetes prevents your body from using glucose for energy, it starts to burn up fat stores in order to feed its cells.  This can result in unexpected weight loss.
  • Tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet: In addition to slow-healing cuts, nerve damage can also cause a tingling sensation or numbness in the extremities (paresthesias). While this condition takes time to develop, leaving it untreated can cause it to worsen and lead to serious health complications.  
  • Nausea and/or vomiting: As a result of burning up fat stores, the body starts to produce chemicals called ketones, which can bring on nausea and vomiting. If ketone in the blood levels reaches a dangerously high level, it can cause a life-threatening condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis.  
  • Fruity or sweet-smelling breath: Ketones can also cause your breath to smell sweet or fruity.

 

What factors increase a person’s risk of developing diabetes?

While anyone can develop diabetes at any age, there are certain risk factors that make some people more vulnerable to the condition than others. Let’s take a look at what these factors are:

  • Being 45 or older
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Eating an unhealthy diet, high in sugar and processed foods
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Being diagnosed as pre-diabetic
  • Being of a certain race or ethnicity, i.e. African, Hispanic, Latino, Indian, or Asian
  • Having existing autoimmune conditions
  • Suffering from viral infections

 

What could happen if diabetes is left undiagnosed or untreated?

The earlier you spot the signs of diabetes, the better your health may fare. It is important to get the right treatment after diagnosis and implement changes to your diet and lifestyle.   Controlling your blood sugar levels could make all the difference in your quality of life and minimize the prospect of any potentially fatal problems in the future.

By failing to take the necessary precautions, you run the risk of developing a whole host of life-threatening illnesses, some of which are permanent and irreversible, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Nerve damage
  • Eye damage
  • Vascular damage
  • Kidney disease
  • Skin and dental infections
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis

If you’re experiencing any of the possible signs and symptoms of diabetes then it is best to book an appointment with your doctor sooner rather than later. A straightforward urine or blood test should establish whether or not you have diabetes; spotting the signs in time, and taking appropriate action, could mean the difference between good health or a poor outcome. If it turns out that you are diabetic, keeping blood sugar levels consistently under control is critical to reducing any possible complications.

 

References

  1. Diabetes UK 2020, What are the signs and symptoms of diabetes? Viewed 24th August 2020, https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/diabetes-symptoms
  2. JDRF 2020, Early symptoms of diabetes, viewed 24th August 2020, https://www.jdrf.org/t1d-resources/about/symptoms/

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