Diabetes - Symptoms

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The symptoms of diabetes can vary greatly from patient to patient. What were your symptoms at the onset of your disease?

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Diabetes Symptoms

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes are often dramatic and come on very suddenly.

  • Type 1 diabetes is usually recognized in childhood or early adolescence, often in association with an illness (such as a virus or urinary tract infection) or injury.
  • The extra stress can cause diabetic ketoacidosis.
    • Symptoms of ketoacidosis include nausea and vomiting. Dehydration and often-serious disturbances in blood levels of potassium follow.
    • Without treatment, ketoacidosis can lead to coma and death.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes are often subtle and may be attributed to aging or obesity.

  • A person may have type 2 diabetes for many years without knowing it.
  • People with type 2 diabetes can develop hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome.
  • Type 2 diabetes can be precipitated by steroids and stress.
  • If not properly treated, type 2 diabetes can lead to complications such as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and nerve damage.

Common symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:

  • Fatigue, constantly tired: In diabetes, the body is inefficient and sometimes unable to use glucose for fuel. The body switches over to metabolizing fat, partially or completely, as a fuel source. This process requires the body to use more energy. The end result is feeling fatigued or constantly tired.
  • Unexplained weight loss: People with diabetes are unable to process many of the calories in the foods they eat. Thus, they may lose weight even though they eat an apparently appropriate or even an excessive amount of food. Losing sugar and water in the urine and the accompanying dehydration also contributes to weight loss.
  • Excessive thirst (polydipsia): A person with diabetes develops high blood sugar levels, which overwhelms the kidney's ability to reabsorb the sugar as the blood is filtered to make urine. Excessive urine is made as the kidney spills the excess sugar. The body tries to counteract this by sending a signal to the brain to dilute the blood, which translates into thirst. The body encourages more water consumption to dilute the high blood sugar back to normal levels and to compensate for the water lost by excessive urination.
  • Excessive urination (polyuria): Another way the body tries to rid the body of the extra sugar in the blood is to excrete it in the urine. This can also lead to dehydration because a large amount of water is necessary to excrete the sugar.
  • Excessive eating (polyphagia): If the body is able, it will secrete more insulin in order to try to manage the excessive blood sugar levels. Moreover, the body is resistant to the action of insulin in type 2 diabetes. One of the functions of insulin is to stimulate hunger. Therefore, higher insulin levels lead to increased hunger. Despite increased caloric intake, the person may gain very little weight and may even lose weight.
  • Poor wound healing: High blood sugar levels prevent white blood cells, which are important in defending the body against bacteria and also in cleaning up dead tissue and cells, from functioning normally. When these cells do not function properly, wounds take much longer to heal and become infected more frequently. Long-standing diabetes also is associated with thickening of blood vessels, which prevents good circulation, including the delivery of enough oxygen and other nutrients to body tissues.
  • Infections: Certain infections, such as frequent yeast infections of the genitals, skin infections, and frequent urinary tract infections, may result from suppression of the immune system by diabetes and by the presence of glucose in the tissues, which allows bacteria to grow. These infections can also be an indicator of poor blood sugar control in a person known to have diabetes.
  • Altered mental status: Agitation, unexplained irritability, inattention, extreme lethargy, or confusion can all be signs of very high blood sugar, ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar hyperglycemia nonketotic syndrome, or hypoglycemia (low sugar). Thus, any of these merit the immediate attention of a medical professional. Call your health care professional or 911.
  • Blurry vision: Blurry vision is not specific for diabetes but is frequently present with high blood sugar levels.
Return to Diabetes (Type 1, Type 2)

See what others are saying

Published: September 10

Hearing loss , ringing in the ears and dehydration were my diabetic symptoms. Also sometimes my blood sugar would drop too low (40-) and I would have hypoglycemia. Also I had bladder infections that my doctor put down to menopause symptoms at first. I also have connective tissue disease which muddied the waters a bit until random blood work with my rheumatologist and my gynecologist showed elevated glucose levels. I have nine siblings and six out of 10 have diabetes. The first diagnosed was my youngest brother who died of diabetes complications age 35. I have told my four siblings who are not diagnosed yet to watch for symptoms of diabetes. They are not the youngest, my oldest sibling is free of symptoms. It might also be noted there are four different kinds of auto-immune disease with myself and my siblings.

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Comment from: Diabeteschick, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: October 06

I was a healthy 27 year old female when I found out. I had been training for a half marathon for a few months and had lost about 15 pounds, was thirsty, urinated more often than normal and had severe cramping in my legs at night. I chalked everything up to increased exercise. I had a cold/flu for about 2 weeks when I had some blood work done. My sugar was 627! I was diagnosed very quickly with Type 1 Diabetes. That day was certainly etched in my mind. But, I do feel like a new person and am probably healthier now than before!

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