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14 Early Warning Signs of Diabetes You Shouldn’t Ignore.

Diabetes or diabetes mellitus, is a metabolic disease characterised by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. It occurs when the pancreas is either not producing enough insulin or the cells are not able to respond properly to the insulin produced.

As of 2014, about 387 million people worldwide suffered from diabetes.

There are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes also known as juvenile diabetes occurs when the pancreas is not able to produce enough insulin. Chances of getting this type of diabetes is increased by family history, exposure to viral illnesses, the presence of damaging immune system cells in the body and low vitamin D levels.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common and occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to regulate the blood sugar or the cells are not able to use the insulin properly. Obesity, an inactive lifestyle, family history, aging, history of gestational diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels are some common risk factors for this type of diabetes.

Then we have the Gestational diabetes which occurs during or after pregnancy without any prior history of diabetes. Women older than age 25 and those who are African-American, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. Family or personal history of this type of diabetes and obesity also increase a person’s risk.

Silent killer.

Diabetes is a silent killer because of its easy-to-miss symptoms. Most often, people do not even know that they have diabetes as early symptoms sometimes seem harmless. However, early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications, which include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, foot damage, skin problems and pregnancy complications.

Early Warning Signs of Diabetes

Knowing the signs and symptoms of diabetes can help you catch it early on and learn how to manage it. Here are early warning signs to look out for:

1. Frequent urination (polyuria): 

If you notice that you have to urinate more often with an abnormally large amount of urine and you wake up during the night (sometimes several times) to empty your bladder, this could be a warning sign.

When you have diabetes, excess sugar (glucose) builds up in your blood forcing the kidneys to work really hard to filter and absorb all that extra glucose. During this time, the excess glucose gets excreted into the urine, soaking up fluids drawn from your tissues. This leads to abnormally high urine output.

2. Excessive thirst (polydipsia):

This symptom links with the previous one. As you lose more fluids, the body will try to replenish them, hence the constant need to drink.

If you drink sugary beverages like juice, soda or chocolate milk to quench this thirst, more sugar enters the body leading to more thirst.

If the reason behind frequent thirst is high blood sugar levels, drinking will not satisfy the thirst. This is not the case when the problem is due to allergies, the flu, the common cold, fever or dehydration caused by vomiting or diarrhea.

3. Increased hunger (polyphagia): 

Due to extreme highs and lows in blood sugar levels, the body develops a sudden urge to eat. When the cells are deprived of glucose, your body automatically looks for more sources of fuel, causing persistent hunger.

In addition, eating more will not get rid of the feeling of hunger in people with undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes, as this will just further elevate the blood sugar level. So, eating more will only exacerbate the problem.

4. Dry mouth: 

You experience a lack of moisture in the mouth, which can be both unpleasant and dangerous. Dry mouth can become a breeding ground for bacteria and cause different oral and dental problems. Gum diseases are a known complication of diabetes.

5. Unexplained weight loss or weight gain:

While obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, shedding pounds without even trying is a sign of the disease.  Insufficient insulin compels the body to break down protein from the muscles as an alternate source of fuel, causing a drop in body weight. As insulin can’t get glucose into the cells, the body reacts as if it would be starving and starts using proteins from the muscles.

Rapid, unexplained weight loss (10 to 20 pounds over a couple of months) is not healthy and requires further investigation. On the other hand, increased consumption of sugary foods can lead to weight gain.

6. Fatigue:

Excessive tiredness can develop when body constantly compensates for the lack of glucose in the cells. It also doesn’t help if your sleep gets interrupted by the urgency to urinate. People start experiencing lower levels of energy and are chronically not feeling well. It is not uncommon to also feel irritable and in a bad mood.

7. Vision problems: 

High blood sugar also affects the eyes. It changes the shape of the lens and eyes. As a result, your vision becomes blurry. You can see occasional flashes of light and the vision gets distorted. Initially, the changes to the eyes are reversible. However, if sugar levels stay high for a long period of time, this can cause permanent damage and can even lead to eyesight loss.

8. Slow Wound Healing:

Cuts and scrapes heal slowly in a diabetic person as compared to a person who does not have this condition. High blood sugar hardens the arteries, making the blood vessels narrower than usual. This causes less blood flow and oxygen to a wounded area, hence taking more time for the wound to heal.

In addition, elevated blood sugar has a direct impact on the functions of red blood cells that carry nutrients to the tissues. This also slows the healing of wounds.

Apart from slow healing, the wound can develop into an ulcer or become infected. Hence, wounds, no matter how small, require close monitoring.

9. Headaches:

A headache can develop due to elevated blood sugar levels and is considered an early sign of hyperglycemia (high blood glucose). The symptom gets worse as condition worsens.

10. Recurring Infections:

Diabetics suffer from frequent infections, and sometimes the infection recurs due to a weakened immune system. High blood sugar makes people highly susceptible to different types of infections especially on the skin and in the urinary tract.

Hyperglycemic environment increases the virulence of some pathogens, thus causing infections.

11. Tingling Sensations and Numbness:

This symptom is a result of nerve damage – neuropathy – that is connected with diabetes. Tingling sensations as well as numbness in the hands, fingers, legs and feet are also warning signs of diabetes. 

High blood glucose levels restrict proper blood flow to the extremities, which in turn damages the nerve fibers. The problem can become severe, ultimately interfering with your daily routine or your sleep.

If high sugar levels are not controlled in time, it can lead to peripheral arterial disease, which is due to poor circulation, or diabetic peripheral neuropathy, due to nerve damage.

12. Skin changes:

Velvety dark skin, known as achantosis nigricans, can appear on the neck, groin and armpit. You can also observe other unusual skin changes and itchiness, especially around the vaginal or groin area.

As diabetes causes poor circulation, the sweat glands become dysfunctional, which in turn results in excessively dry skin. Along with dryness, your skin may become excessively itchy.

13. Sexual dysfunction:

Diabetes also damages blood vessels and nerves in the sex organs, which can lead to different sexual problems. Women can experience vaginal dryness and men can have difficulty with erection. About 35% to 75% of men with diabetes suffer from impotence.

14. Yeast infections: 

Since bacteria and fungi thrive in a sugary environment, infections can become more common. The most frequent ones are yeast infections, such as candida, especially vaginal candida infections in women. 

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