You notice that you’re peeing a lot more often than usual, and a friend casually mentions that she’s heard this may be a symptom of diabetes — but hey, you’re also drinking so much coffee these days, so should you really be concerned? And what are the other signs and symptoms of diabetes, anyway? Keep reading — with the help of a doctor who specializes in diabetes, we’ll take you through the basics and beyond.
First, what is diabetes?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines diabetes as “a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.” When we eat, the food is broken down into glucose and travels into the bloodstream, raising your blood sugar levels. That sends a message to your pancreas: “Hey, time to release insulin!” And the insulin (a hormone) is like a key that opens the door for that blood sugar to find its way into your body’s cells for use as energy.
But when you have diabetes, one of two things happens: Either your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or it can’t use insulin as well as it should. So too much blood sugar remains in your bloodstream, which definitely isn’t good for your body long-term, bringing on the possibility of serious health problems like heart and kidney disease and vision loss.
What are the different types of diabetes?
“Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that happens when the body mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas,” explains Rita R. Kalyani, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and previous chair of the American Diabetes Association’s clinical guidelines committee. “Type 2 diabetes — which accounts for about 90-95% of cases in this country — occurs when there is insulin resistance in the body and insulin can no longer effectively reduce blood glucose levels. Type 1 diabetes is more common in children but occurs in adults as well. Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults, but with the rise in pediatric obesity, it’s occurring more frequently in kids too.”
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
The CDC and the Mayo Clinic list the following common symptoms of diabetes:
- You’re very thirsty
- You have to urinate frequently, often at night
- You’re extremely hungry
- You’re losing weight for no obvious reason
- You’re very fatigued
- You’re irritable
- Your vision is blurry
- You have sores that are slow to heal
- You have frequent infections, such as in your gums, skin, or vaginal area
- Your hands or feet feel numb or tingly
- Your skin is very dry
For type 1 diabetes, the symptoms may also include nausea, stomach pains, or vomiting.
According to the CDC, because type 2 diabetes symptoms can develop over time and be hard to spot (who isn’t really tired and irritable these days?), it’s important to know if you’re at higher risk (see below). Dr. Kalyani adds: “Some of the symptoms of diabetes can be non-specific, but in general, if an individual has the typical constellation of symptoms of high blood glucose — such as feeling thirsty or urinating a lot, blurry vision, unexplained weight loss — along with other risk factors for diabetes, they should likely get tested.”
What can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes?
The Mayo Clinic lists the following factors:
Weight. “Excess body fat makes the body resistant to the effects of insulin, which can eventually result in high blood glucose levels over time and the development of diabetes. This is the reason why lifestyle modifications, through diet and exercise, and weight loss are emphasized, along with medications for diabetes,” says Dr. Kalyani.
Family history. Does a parent or sibling have type 2 diabetes? Then you’re at increased risk.
Lack of exercise. The less you move around, the greater your risk is. Exercise is key in three ways: It helps you keep your weight under control; it helps your body use up glucose as energy; and as the Mayo Clinic says, it “makes your cells more sensitive to insulin.”
Race or ethnicity. Dr. Kalyani notes that Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and Native American people are at higher risk.
Gestational diabetes. Did you develop this when you were pregnant? “Women with a history of gestational diabetes are at an especially high risk of developing type 2 diabetes during their lifetime,” says Dr. Kalyani. Same thing if your wee one weighed in at more than 9 pounds at birth.
Age. As you get up in years, your chance of diabetes increases. Maybe you’re exercising less, putting on pounds, and losing muscle mass. But know this: As Dr. Kalyani points out, kids, teens, and young adults are seeing their rates increase, so age isn’t everything.
Polycystic ovary syndrome. According to the Mayo clinic, “For women, having polycystic ovary syndrome — a common condition characterized by irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth and obesity — increases the risk of diabetes.”
High blood pressure. If you’ve got an issue with elevated blood pressure (over 140/90), then diabetes is another condition to keep an eye out for.
Abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Keep an eye on your cholesterol; if your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol, are low, you’ve got a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Your triglycerides are another factor: High levels mean a higher risk of type 2 diabetes as well.
The importance of watching for diabetes symptoms:
As the CDC points out, there’s no cure yet for diabetes, so it’s important to make the healthy moves that can help stave it off, like keeping your weight in check, getting your move on daily, and eating healthy food. Says Dr. Kalyani, “It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of diabetes, especially if you have any risk factors. By following up with your health care provider regularly, the complications of diabetes may be preventable.”
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