November is National Diabetes Month which makes it an opportune time to provide education on the basic facts about this disease. Diabetes mellitus is typically a chronic condition but can be effectively managed when caught early. However, when left untreated it can have potentially devastating effects and lead to potential complications that include heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and nerve damage.
To effectively manage diabetes, you first need to know the symptoms of this disorder. In this post, you will receive some fundamental information about type 1 and type 2 diabetes and signs for you to watch out for.
What is Diabetes?
The pancreas, and specifically the beta cells of this organ, produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin allows you to use glucose (a simple sugar), the primary form of energy for the human body. You receive glucose from consuming any carbohydrate – not just sugary treats – such as complex carbohydrates like bread, potatoes and pasta.
Diabetics have problems with insulin. They may make no insulin, insufficient insulin or have a resistance to insulin’s effects. As a result, they experience higher than normal blood sugar since they cannot process glucose properly. High blood sugar – or hyperglycemia – can lead to a host of both short-term and chronic health problems.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes
There are several types of diabetes mellitus, but two of the most common are type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes was formerly known as juvenile diabetes since it is typically discovered during childhood. You may also hear type 1 diabetes referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes. This form of diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the patient’s immune system inappropriately attacks the beta cells of the pancreas. In short, type 1 diabetics produce very little to no insulin and require insulin injections to survive.
Type 2 Diabetes
On the other hand, you have type 2 diabetes which is sometimes referred to adult-onset diabetes. You may also hear the condition referred to as non-insulin-dependent diabetes, although this name is not completely accurate. Type 2 diabetes usually develops in people over the age of 30. These patients are often overweight and have high cholesterol and/or blood pressure. Their bodies no longer respond to insulin as they should, so the beta cells create more insulin to compensate. This “burns out” the beta cells over time so that insulin production eventually drops.
Type 2 diabetics can often manage their diabetes with oral medications alone or sometimes with just diet and exercise. However, some patients with type 2 diabetes will eventually come to rely on insulin injections to control their blood sugar levels.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Many type 1 diabetics have a thin and slender build, although this is not a hard and fast rule. It is possible for patients with type 1 diabetes to be bulky or even overweight. Conversely, type 2 diabetics are often overweight or obese but can certainly be of normal weight or underweight.
However, type 1 and type 2 diabetes share many symptoms in common. These symptoms include:
- Excessive thirst, known medically as polydipsia
- Frequent urination, also called polyuria
- Blurred vision or other problems with eyesight
- Excessive fatigue
- Excessive hunger
- Wounds that heal slowly or not at all
- Frequent skin, oral or vaginal infections
Most of the symptoms above are a direct result of increased blood sugar. The body attempts to rid itself of excess sugar in the blood by excreting this sugar through the urinary system. This mechanism causes increased thirst and urination. Diabetics may also have ketones in their urine, which can be detected by a urine analysis in your doctor’s office or by test strips you can use at home.
Many diabetics will also eventually experience neuropathy in their limbs. Neuropathy is characterized by burning, tingling, numbness, or stinging pain, mainly in the feet and hands. Since neuropathy may cause numbness or decreased sensation, particularly in the feet, diabetics may wound their feet or experience an infection without noticing a problem. This occurrence is particularly dangerous since diabetes can lower the immune response and delay healing.
A definitive diagnosis of type 1 or type 2 diabetes can only be made with testing in a doctor’s office. If you experience any of the symptoms above or have a family history of diabetes, you owe it to yourself to see a physician. The sooner diabetes is discovered, the sooner necessary management can begin. With careful monitoring by a healthcare team, diligent maintenance, and a commitment to healthy lifestyle changes, most diabetics can minimize their symptoms and enjoy full lives.
PACT is a coalition of board-certified physicians in the New Haven, Connecticut region. Please click here to access a searchable list of PACT specialists.