Symptoms of diabetes do vary depending on the type that is diagnosed. Typically, those diagnosed with type 1 experience symptoms quite quickly (within a matter of days or weeks) and the nature of negative effects can be more severe.
In the case of type 2 (or even prediabetes) symptoms are generally mild and may not be noticed at first. One of the main reasons type 2 diabetes is so frequently diagnosed is due to other health problems whereby long-term damage brings about noticeable symptoms.
Common symptoms and signs of diabetes (type 1 and type 2)
- A dry mouth and itchy skin: When the body requires more fluids to produce urine, a reduction in moisture needed in other areas of the body occurs too. Along with becoming thirstier, dehydration occurs and with that, a dry mouth. Skin also loses moisture and becomes dry, resulting in itchiness.
- Increased thirst and frequent urination: The average individual will need to urinate between 4 and 7 times during a 24-hour period. Normally, the body reabsorbs glucose as it passes through the kidneys. Those with diabetes have higher blood sugar levels, and the body struggles or is unable to allow this. Instead the body will ‘react’ and try and get rid of the extra glucose by producing more urine. To do this, the body requires more fluids. A person with diabetes will feel thirstier, drink more and therefore experience an increased need to urinate more often than is normal.
- Extreme hunger, irritability, fatigue and lack of energy: Normally the body converts the food we eat into glucose for sustained energy. Our body’s cells require insulin to absorb or use glucose. When not enough insulin is produced or there is a resistance in the body’s cells, glucose cannot be absorbed (used) and thus causes a lack of energy or fatigue (this can range from a general ‘worn out’ feeling to complete exhaustion), which in turn results in a person feeling hungrier than usual. Muscles and tissues in the body ‘raise the hunger flag’ making an individual feel less satisfied and desire more food, even if they’ve already eaten.
- Unexplained weight loss: The primary source of energy is food and if there is a lack in the body, it will start burning muscle, protein or fat stores instead. This can lead to weight loss even though eating habits have not undergone a change for the intended purpose of weight loss.
- Presence of ketones in the urine: When there is not enough available insulin in the body, ketones develop as a by-product of the breakdown of muscle and fat (in place of energy). Ketones can build-up in the blood to dangerous levels and cause diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be life-threatening. The presence of ketones causes symptoms of nausea and vomiting.
- Blurry vision: With the changes in fluid levels (shifting into the eye duct), lenses in the eyes begin to swell up. This can lead to a change in shape and a decreased ability to focus. Blurry vision can be resolved when sugar levels normalise. Chronically high blood pressure can cause diabetic retinopathy (which is the leading cause of blindness). The risk for cataracts and glaucoma is higher in diabetic individuals.
- Slow-healing sores or cuts: Over time, increased blood-sugar levels negatively affect the impact on white blood cells (responsible for healing wounds) and thus the overall blood flow in the body. This leads to nerve damage, making it more difficult for the natural process of healing wounds. Other causes of nerve damage can be pain or numbness in the feet or legs.
- Frequent infections: Yeast infections (candidiasis) in both men and women are common problems. Yeast feeds on glucose, and the higher than normal levels of blood-sugar in body of a diabetic person thus allows it to thrive. Infections then grow in the warm, moist folds of skin and are most common in the areas between fingers and toes, underneath breasts, as well as in and around sex organs. Women can also experience frequent bladder infections.