Diabetes is a disease that affects blood sugar, also known as blood glucose. While blood sugar levels always fluctuate depending upon when and what we’ve eaten, individuals with Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes experience extreme periods of high blood sugar. Our bodies break down the food we consume into glucose. Glucose then enters the bloodstream. In healthy individuals, a hormone known as insulin is secreted to carry glucose into our cells.
In individuals with Type 1 Diabetes (also known as Juvenile Diabetes, as it commonly strikes in childhood), the body does not create enough insulin, leaving too much glucose circulating in the bloodstream. In individuals with Type 2 Diabetes (which is much more common than Type 1 Diabetes), the body does not make or use insulin properly thanks to unhealthy lifestyle, obesity, and dietary issues. So what’s the big problem with too much glucose in our blood? Over time, excess glucose is incredibly harmful to overall health, damaging cells in our eyes, kidneys, and nerves, and contributing to heart disease and stroke. Occasionally, blindness and amputation become very serious and real complications of Diabetes.
While only a blood test can confirm a diagnosis of Diabetes, be on the lookout for the following symptoms:
Frequent Urination– As excess glucose builds up in the blood as a consequence of either Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes, the kidneys are forced to work overtime to regulate and filter the amount of glucose in our blood. In order to excrete the excess glucose from the body, our kidneys will attempt to flush it out through our urine.
Constant Thirst– Thanks to our kidney’s attempt to flush extra glucose via urine (see “Frequent Urination”, above), the kidneys cycle through the fluid we have consumed more quickly, and draws even more moisture from our body’s tissues. As such, we become dehydrated and feel an increased sense of thirst, even after recently having consumed a large amount of fluid. Constant thirst and frequent urination will continue to feed off each other until the diabetes is brought under control through appropriate treatment.
Fatigue– Insulin is the hormone that is responsible for carrying glucose (energy) into the body’s cells and tissues. When insulin response is compromised (as is the case in Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes), we feel fatigued, because our cells are not receiving the energy they need from the food we eat. Instead, the glucose continues to circulate through our bloodstream without entering our cells, until it is flushed out by the kidneys.
Shakiness or Trembling– Cells that are robbed of energy they would normally obtain from glucose do not function as well as they should. Starved for glucose, you may begin to feel faint, tremble, shake, or feel otherwise physically unstable. Cold sweating often accompanies shakiness.
Darkening of the Skin– Darkening or roughening of the skin around the neck, throat, and armpits is a classic Diabetes symptom. Known as Acanthosis Nigricans, this skin change occurs thanks to an insulin reaction in the skin. Diabetic individuals usually notice these skin changes around area of body folding, such as the armpits, neck, or groin.
Unintended Weight loss- In some cases, Diabetes can cause unintentional, rapid weight loss. While unintended weight loss may sound like a positive side effect, especially for those who are overweight to begin with, this weight loss should not be mistaken for healthy weight loss. Generally, this weight loss occurs because the body senses that it is being starved, as it isn’t receiving energy (glucose), despite having consumed food. As such, the body will begin to break down muscle tissue, leading to weight loss.
Numbness, Tingling, or diminished sensation in the hands and feet – Elevated blood sugar is toxic to our bodies, destroying blood vessels and causing neuropathy, damage to the nerve cells that otherwise allow us to maintain normal sensory impulses. When cells become damaged, fingers, toes, hands, and feel can tingle, become numb, or otherwise begin to lack typical sensation. This is a serious complication, and can be the sign of serious nerve damage that may lead to deterioration of the tissue and be cause for future amputation if the condition is not controlled through medical intervention.
Suspect that you or a loved one may have Type 1 or 2 Diabetes? Unsure of what to do next?
Don’t be paralyzed by fear! Diabetes is by no means a death sentence! The disease can be controlled (and even eliminated, in the case of Type 2 Diabetes) with lifestyle choices, glucose monitoring, and education. Early detection is key, so if you even suspect that you or a loved one may be experiencing the symptoms of the disease, consult a doctor. Diabetes is a serious but livable condition- if you’re armed with the right tools, living with Diabetes is manageable, and your quality of life will be vastly improved by adequate treatment.