Identifying Diabetes Symptoms and Signs

Most people have the luxury of not paying much attention to their blood sugar levels all through their youth and early adulthood. For a good number of them, however, once they reach their mid-40s they now have no choice but to pay attention to their blood glucose levels. That’s because they’re now seeing symptoms of diabetes, particularly the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes. And when we say a good number of them, we mean it – over 30 million Americans have some sort of diabetes.

It’s also estimated that 1 in 4 of those people either don’t know they have the disease or have never been properly diagnosed with it. That stat makes it clear that understanding the signs of diabetes is important. That’s true because if left untreated diabetes can lead to serious health complications that, in worst case scenarios with heart disease and stroke, could lead to death. Indeed, the symptoms of diabetes are a big deal.

The Difference Between Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes

To answer this plainly, we can understand that Type 1 Diabetes is an inherent condition that the individual acquires through no fault of their own. People can have a genetic predisposition to developing Type 2 diabetes, but more often its poor diet and lifestyle choices behind signs of diabetes. That’s looking at them in a very simplistic way, however, so let’s dig a little deeper into the two types of diabetes and see if there’s any differences in their symptoms.

Type 1 diabetes results when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. That’s a problem because insulin extracts glucose from food and delivers it to your cells to be used for energy. When there’s no insulin present to conduct this process, then the glucose (sugar) remains in the blood and isn’t converted into cell energy.

Without going into great detail, cellular energy is extremely important for nearly every life-continuing function in the body. People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day in order to stay alive. Type 2 diabetes is different in that it is a condition where the body no longer makes insulin well and / or convert it to cellular energy effectively. As mentioned, diabetes symptoms for Type 2 usually surface in people as they approach middle age.

Diabetes Symptoms

The following are common signs of diabetes:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased hunger
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness or tingling in feet or hands
  • Sores that won’t heal or heal especially slowly
  • Unexplained weight loss

The symptoms of diabetes are also known to onset differently depending on whether it’s Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. The diabetes symptoms for Type 1 usually come on quite quickly, while Type 2 diabetes symptoms usually develop more slowly over the course of years. They develop so slowly that many people don’t take real notice of them, and in some cases they only become aware once their signs of diabetes are extremely pronounced or they develop a major health condition because of their diabetes.

What Causes Diabetes?

Diabetes is a fairly household name when it comes to human disease, but some may still ask what is diabetes exactly and what causes diabetes. We touched on diabetes symptoms and what causes Type 1 diabetes above, but to go into greater detail the immune system response that results in the death of the beta cells crucial to insulin transfer is the result of the individual’s genetics and environmental factors like viruses that trigger the condition. Outside of that, the scientific community doesn’t have much certainty about what causes Type 1 diabetes

For Type 2 diabetes the evidence is much more solid and clear; being overweight and physically inactive while still consuming a diet high in refined sugar is the very recipe for Type 2 diabetes. Extra weight also leads to a different condition called insulin resistance, where insulin is produced by the body resists its effort to transport glucose to cells. Insulin resistance is often seen before signs of diabetes develop. Extra body fat in the abdominal area is also a cause of type 2 diabetes and is associated with the disease leading to heart and blood vessel disease.

Other less common causes of diabetes are genetic mutations (monogenic diabetes), cystic fibrosis, hemochromatosis where the body stores too much iron, and hormonal diseases like Cushing’s Syndrome, Acromegaly where the body produces too much growth hormone, and hyperthyroidism. Pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer can also cause diabetes.

Some racial or ethnic groups are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. They are:

  • African Americans
  • First Nations Peoples
  • Asian Americans
  • Hispanics / Latinos
  • Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

Other Types of Diabetes

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes draw the lion’s share of attention as health concerns, but there are other types of diabetes as well. We won’t go into them in great detail here, but gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during a woman’s pregnancy and occurs when hormonal changes in the body are paired with specific genetics and lifestyle factors. Diabetes symptoms here include frequent urination and increased thirst. Gestational diabetes can promote Type 2 diabetes later in life

Monogenic diabetes and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes are much less common but are seen from time to time in patients of different ages and may come with different signs of diabetes.

Diabetes Risks and Diabetes Medications

Diabetes symptoms should be regarded with genuine concern, and speaking to your physician immediately is highly recommended to allow them to make a diagnosis. If left untreated or allowed to progress, high blood sugar levels and diabetes can lead to:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney disease
  • Dental disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Foot problems

Identifying your symptoms of diabetes will be followed by a physician’s visit and then most likely a prescription for diabetes medications. For Type 1 diabetes you will need insulin. This is most commonly administered with an insulin pump that gives small, steady doses across the day. There are 4 kinds of insulin – rapid-acting, short-acting (regular), intermediate-acting, and long-acting.

Most people with Type 2 diabetes will receive a prescription for metformin, and this drug lowers the amount of glucose produced by your liver so that less of it is left to float in your bloodstream. There are other diabetes medications, but for Type 2 metformin is the standard choice.