Diabetes is a very serious disease and any diabetes-like symptoms need immediate professional medical advice for diagnosis and treatment. It is ultimately diagnosed by testing the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood after fasting overnight for at least 8 hours. It is easily determined with a single draw of blood which is analyzed by a lab, or it can be done in your doctor’s office using a glucose meter.
Normal fasting blood glucose levels are less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). Fasting blood glucose levels of more than 126 mg/dl on two or more tests on different days indicates diabetes. A blood glucose level of 200 mg/dl or higher, taken randomly at any time of day, also indicates diabetes.
A fasting blood glucose level that stays above 100, but below 126 is known as impaired fasting glucose (IFG). While these patients do not have the diagnosis of diabetes, it is important that it be addressed so that diabetes may be delayed or prevented.
The American Diabetes Assocation’s How to Tell if You Have Pre-Diabetes can give you more information and also can link you to a test to help you determine if you are at increased risk for diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Symptoms noticed by patients at the onset of diabetes range from no symptoms at all to extreme thirst, extreme fatigue, frequent urination, rapid weight loss, difficulty losing weight (common in the pre-diabetic stage), eye pain or blurry vision, foot pain, dry mouth, dry skin, sweaty spells, weakness, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, bladder infections, tingling in the legs, gum disease, vomiting/upset stomach, extreme hunger, headaches and dizziness.
So you see, it can get quite difficult to diagnose this on your own.
Unless you are familiar with how diabetes works, you may want to read What is Diabetes and the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2? to help you digest the follwing information.
An explanation of the most common symptoms:
High amounts of glucose in the urine causes frequent urination, which leads to dehydration. Dehydration causes excessive thirst, so you drink more water, which adds to the frequency of urination…and so around it goes.
Insulin resistance, which often leads to diabetes, promotes fat storage because glucose cannot properly enter the cells to be used as energy. The body keeps producing more insulin to try to get those cells to open up and since insulin is a hormone that likes to store fat, this can lead to weight gain, which leads to obesity, which worsens insulin resistance, which accelerates the development of Pre-Diabetes, which, left unchecked can lead to type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, obesity can be what initiates the insulin resistance in the first place. Another chicken/egg situation. This diabetes is tricky stuff.
Diabetics experience weight loss, despite their increased appetite, when the body is no longer producing any, or not enough, insulin. This lack of insulin keeps the sugar in your blood instead of letting it into the cells where it can be converted to energy. If your blood sugar is very high, you urinate a lot and that causes weight loss, plus a muscle breakdown can occur, causing unhealthy weight loss. Many patients find out they have diabetes when they have experienced unexplained weight loss.
Some untreated diabetes patients complain of nausea and vomiting. The nausea and vomiting could be because of a condition called gastroparesis, which is caused by high blood sugars that can, over time, damage the vagus nerve which controls the movement of food through the digestive tract. When this nerve is damaged, food moves slowly or stops moving through the digestive tract. Nerve damage also leads to problems of the feet.
If fatigue is paired with any of the other classic diabetes symptoms, you need to schedule a diabetes screening test. The reason diabetics experience fatigue is because their glucose is just floating around in their system instead of being converted to energy. Without enough insulin, the cells don’t allow the glucose in, so you feel drained all the time. This fatigue can only be alleviated by returning the blood sugar to its normal levels.
Diabetics are prone to all kinds of infections, but women with diabetes, in particular, often notice frequent urinary tract infections. According to an article on DiabetesInControl.com, women with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have bacteria in their bladdres than women without diabetes (not true for men). Poor circulation in diabetics reduces the ability of infection-fighting white blood cells to get where they need to go. When they get there, they are less likely to ingest the offending bacteria and kill them than normal white blood cells. Many people with diabetes also have bladder dysfunctions that contract poorly, allowing urine to remain in static pools where bacteria can grow.
Diabetics also have more skin problems and other infections that often lead to a diagnosis. There are too many to list but if you’d like to read more, see the American Diabetes Assocation’s “Skin Complications” sections.
And last but not least, an early symptom of eye problems relating to diabetes is blurred vision. High blood sugar changes the shape and flexibility of the lens of the eye, distorting the ability to focus which causes blurred vision. Other symptoms include double vision, cloudy vision, floating spots and curtain-like shadows in the eye.
If you have any of these concerns, please see your doctor and get a simple blood test. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to some really hairy complications including high blood pressure, heart attacks and heart failure, blindness, kidney failure, coma, nerve damage and amputation. Not to mention death.
The good news is, if diabetes is caught in its early stages, and it is still considered mild, your doctor may start treatment by having you drop excess body fat, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol through diet and exercise. If your diabetes is more complicated, or at a more advanced stage, you will be treated with oral medications or insulin injections.