Signs and symptoms of early diabetes are easy to disregard because they may seem harmless and get brushed off as nothing serious. Damage can start years before symptoms become noticeable. This is unfortunate because awareness of early symptoms can help you get the disease under control sooner and prevent damage. Type 2 diabetes is a serious force to reckon with but there are concrete actions that can be taken to control it.
Sometimes people with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes present with no symptoms. However, it is possible the patient has experienced symptoms, but they were mild or developed gradually and went unnoticed. It is important to pay attention to your body and ask yourself if you have had any of the following symptoms. Even pre-diabetes can increase the risk for heart disease so the sooner action is taken the better.
"Classic" Early Diabetes Symptoms
The "classic" early diabetes symptoms are frequent urination, thirst, increased hunger, fatigue, and weight loss. We are all different and symptoms may vary or be hard to spot. Below are some detailed diabetes symptoms to look for.
Detailed Signs and Symptoms of Early Diabetes
When you have type 2 diabetes, cells become resistant to the hormone insulin. Insulin helps sugar (glucose) to get transported into cells to be used for energy. The cells become starved for glucose and hunger increases. You may feel extreme hunger even after eating.
Increased Urination and Thirst
Increased levels of sugar in the bloodstream cause the kidneys to attempt to filter out sugar and return it to the bloodstream. The kidneys may not be able to keep up with the increased load, so excess sugar is dumped into the urine. Bodily fluids are drawn from tissues to help excrete the sugar from the body. Urination increases causing dehydration and thirst. This leads to drinking more fluids which therefore increases urination. These are classic diabetes symptoms.
This symptom is due to dehydration as described above.
The preferred source for energy in cells is sugar. Because insulin does not function properly and cannot escort sugar into the cells to be used for energy, the body switches to using fat for energy. Ketones are a byproduct of burning fat for energy and acetone, a type of ketone, has a tell-tale fruity scent that is similar to the scent of nail polish remover.
High blood sugar can cause changes to the lenses of the eyes. The lenses may become distorted and can lose flexibility, making it harder for them to focus. Over time, this can cause damage to your eyes and lead to changes in vision and even blindness. Over time, diabetes can cause other changes to the eyes which may result in cloudy vision, double vision, floaters, shadows, cataracts, vision changes, and bleeding.
There are many diabetes-related causes for fatigue but dehydration can contribute to fatigue. The inability to use sugar properly and efficiently for energy needs can also cause fatigue.
This symptom may be caused by fluctuating blood sugar levels and the body's struggle to maintain normal levels as these can affect mood.
Diabetes can affect various bodily systems that can create conditions that cause headaches. These conditions include high blood sugar, eye problems, high blood pressure, and neuropathy.
Let your doctor know if you have had itchy skin. Itching can be due to infection, dryness, or poor blood circulation. Itching in the genital area is common with high blood sugar levels. The lower part of the legs is another common area for itching and can be a sign of early diabetes.
Unusual Weight Changes
People with type 2 diabetes typically do not lose as much weight as those with type 1 diabetes. However, if you have been hungry and eating yet have lost weight without trying you should alert your doctor. Alternatively, let your doctor know if you have had recent weight gain.
Frequent infections such as frequent and persistent yeast infections in women, skin infections, urinary infections, or gum and mouth infections are diabetes symptoms that may be due to high blood sugar levels. High levels can cause damage to the circulatory and nervous systems.
Sores, Cuts, and Bruises That Take a Long Time to Heal
Poor circulation and nerve damage caused by high blood sugar can cause healing difficulty and injury unawareness, especially in the feet. When injuries go untreated and they are slow to heal, they can develop into serious problems that are hard to correct.
Numbness or Tingling in the Hands or Feet
High levels of sugar can cause damage to the nervous system which can produce a tingling sensation in the extremities. This is called neuropathy. It can take years for symptoms to appear.
Sexual dysfunction problems related to type 2 diabetes include decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction in men, and difficulty, discomfort, or pain during sex for women. These symptoms can be caused by high blood sugar levels that damage the nervous and circulatory systems which are important for normal sexual function. Other conditions, like yeast infections and dehydration, can make sex uncomfortable.
Skin Complications or Changes
There are many skin conditions related to diabetes. People with diabetes get more frequent bacterial and fungal infections. They also have more problems with itching. One of the more common skin conditions related to diabetes is a condition called acanthosis nigricans. This causes velvety dark skin in bodily creases such as the neck, groin, and armpits. Let your doctor know if you develop other skin changes such as spots, scaly patches, blisters, bumps, rashes, and thinning or thickening of the skin.
What to do
If you are experiencing any one of these signs and symptoms of early diabetes, alert your health care team.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, there are many treatments available today. Usually the first course is trying to control with diet and exercise. Work with your healthcare team to see if your type 2 diabetes can be controlled with lifestyle changes.
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with weight loss. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) has shown this can be accomplished with moderate weight loss though diet and exercise. The DPP followed people who were at high risk for diabetes and had pre-diabetes. The researchers found that subjects who followed a moderate healthy low-fat, low-calorie diet and exercised for 30 minutes a day for five days a week reduced their type 2 diabetes risk by 58%. Surprisingly, participants that were 60 years of age and older had a 71% reduction in risk with lifestyle modification. Study participants experienced a 5-7% weight loss.
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Eye Complications. American Diabetes Association. Accessed December 5, 2011. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/eye-complications/
Foot Complications. American Diabetes Association. Accessed: December 10, 2011. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/foot-complications.html
Prevent Diabetes Problems: Keep Your Teeth and Gums Healthy. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Accessed December 18, 2011. http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/complications_teeth/
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