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Symptoms of Diabetes
Diabetes can creep up without a sound, and start interfering with your body before you realize that anything is happening. In fact, millions of people have diabetes without realizing it, and many will go so long without treatment that they experience permanent damage to their organs and tissues.
But in other cases, there are some subtle yet unmistakable warning signs that your pancreas may be compromised, your insulin response is not working, and your blood sugar is out of control. If you know you have some risk factors for type 2 diabetes, it’s important to keep an eye out for these early markers of insulin resistance.
1. Intense Thirst
If you find you’re drinking more water without a good explanation for your thirst – or an end to it – you might be in the early stages of diabetes. Typically, an insatiable thirst goes hand-in-hand with frequent urination: your kidneys begin to work overtime in order to rid your body of the extra glucose, which leads to lots of bathroom trips, more thirst, and more water intake.
This cycle can continue for some time before other symptoms begin to show up, so if you notice that your bladder is getting you up in the middle of the night on a regular basis, it’s important to consult your doctor and probably have your blood sugar tested.
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2. Weight Loss
Gaining too much weight can put you at risk for diabetes, but losing a lot of weight quickly could mean you’ve developed diabetes. Sudden and extreme weight loss (10 to 20 pounds in the course of a few months) happens when your insulin fails to get the glucose from your blood into your cells, and your cells go into starvation mode.
Without the glucose they need to function properly, they begin to drain protein from the muscles to use for fuel, causing you to lose weight. Since your kidneys are also working faster to get rid of the glucose, your body will lose water weight and expend more energy, which leads to a calorie deficit.
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Like many other early symptoms of diabetes, fatigue can hit when blood glucose spirals out of control. Your energy levels are very dependent on a steady blood sugar level, which keeps your cells functioning well, so you may begin to feel very tired when that level shoots up or dips down.
Once again, ineffective insulin is to blame: it can’t get the glucose into your cells, so your tissues don’t get the energy they need, and you feel tired and lethargic. Although fatigue could hit any time, diabetics often get tired after meals, especially when there is a lot of carbohydrate involved.
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4. Itchy Skin
Diabetes is a systemic disease, which means it eventually affects every organ in the body, including the skin. Chronic itch (especially on or around the genitals) can point to poor circulation – a hallmark of type 2 diabetes. But there are other skin issues to watch out for as well, like a darkening of the skin around the neck and armpits (acanthosis nigricans), bacterial infections, and changes in the texture or appearance of an area of skin. In fact, over 30% of type 2 diabetics will suffer from a skin complication related to their diabetes.
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5. Slow-Healing Wounds
Cuts, scrapes, or bruises that take a long time to heal are also indicative of circulation problems brought on by diabetes. When high glucose levels go on untreated, blood vessels are damaged and blood has a difficult time reaching the site of the injury to create a scab and then build scar tissue.
When the blood cells can’t do their work, wounds will remain open and exposed, and that can set the stage for bacterial and fungal infections. If you notice that your little cuts and abrasions aren’t healing as quickly as they once did, it’s time to see your doctor – don’t wait for an infection to set in, which could complicate things very fast.
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6. Gum Problems
If you have red, swollen, or receding gums, there could be more than dental hygiene to blame. High blood glucose levels can prevent blood from circulating well through your gums, plus it can hinder your natural defenses against oral germs and bacteria.
Gum disease brought on by diabetes isn’t necessarily painful; bad breath, loose teeth, high gums, and changes in your bite alignment can all point to a major blood glucose problem. The relationship goes the other way, too – gum disease can make diabetes harder to control, so any painful or visible changes to your teeth and gums warrant some more investigation.
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7. Blurred Vision
In diabetes, high blood sugar can drain fluids from every part of your body, including the eyes. Once the lenses of your eyes dry out, you may lose your ability to focus, and you’ll find that your vision begins to blur. Luckily, the blurred field of vision, flashes, and spots of light will likely disappear once your blood sugar returns to normal, but if your blood glucose continues to go uncontrolled, new blood vessels can begin to form in the back of the retina. When these new blood vessels begin to damage your existing blood vessels, they can permanently affect your vision, and in the worst cases, lead to blindness.
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8. Numbness and Tingling
Nerve problems are a common consequence of diabetes, and they typically hit the arms, hands, legs, and feet. It could be a feeling of pins-and-needles, or else a mild burning or restlessness (sometimes with swelling), but any ongoing changes in sensation could point to nerve damage, especially when you have any other symptoms of diabetes.
If you visit your doctor soon after you notice the tingling or numbness, they will likely be able to help you reverse the discomfort; blood glucose levels that are left uncontrolled for a long time can lead to permanent and painful nerve damage.
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9. Frequent Infections
Open wounds will eventually attract bacteria, but diabetics are prone to other sorts of infections, too. Women who suffer from diabetes are more likely to contract vaginal yeast infections, because a surplus of glucose compromises their immune system, and the delicate balance of natural flora and bacteria. Since fungi and bacteria thrive in a sugar-rich environment, and moisture helps them easily spread to nearby areas, a yeast infection can quickly lead to a urinary tract or bladder infection. Pay attention to itching, burning or tenderness in this area, and report any worries right away.
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When the pancreas continues to produce insulin but fails to transfer the glucose out of the blood, you’re left with a very high insulin level and volatile blood glucose levels. Your blood sugar will begin to soar and plummet in unpredictable waves, and your excess of insulin could leave you feeling hungry even after you’ve just finished a meal. When your blood glucose levels fall (for instance, after your kidneys have rid your body of the glucose), it confuses your brain, which then sends out hunger signals, hoping to get your body to take in more calories.
Many symptoms of diabetes can point to other health issues, or maybe nothing serious at all. However, early treatment can make a huge difference in prognosis, so don’t take any changes in your body lightly. See your doctor for a simple blood sugar test to make sure everything is functioning well; in the least, you’ll have reassurance and motivation to keep on a healthy track, and in the worst case scenario, you will be able to start treatment and limit the effects and discomforts that diabetes brings.