Detecting diabetes early is essential to starting a person on the path to better health. Many of the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes are the same as type 2 diabetes even though the reasons the person develops the diabetes are different. This is due to the ultimate effect of having extra glucose or sugar in the blood stream. Both type one and type 2 diabetes can be diagnosed in all age groups. Type 1 diabetes is usually detected in children and young adults and type 2 diabetes usually is diagnosed at an older age. (1) This essay is to help you understand the signs and symptoms of diabetes and why they occur.
As mentioned above, many of the signs and symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the same but it is relevant to itemize them in two separate lists. Some of the entries will be duplicated due to the effect of extra glucose in the blood steam. In type 1 diabetes, in some people, extremely life threatening symptoms may be detected very early. This is due to the fact that it is an autoimmune disease and destroys the beta cells which produce insulin needed to keep blood glucose stabilized. Due to the lack of insulin, the person must learn the skills to replace insulin the rest of their life. The onset of type 2 diabetes usually takes more time and is insidious. It may sneak up slowly with a gradual elevation of blood glucose over a longer period of time.
What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?
The symptoms of diabetes that are learned by most professionals include polydipsia (increased extreme thirst), polyphagia (increased hunger), and polyuria (increased urination).
Glucose or sugar in the blood stream needs insulin for uptake into many of the cells of the body. When insulin is not available, glucose builds up in the blood. The kidneys which usually function to prevent glucose from leaving the body through urination will not be able to work properly due to the increase concentration of glucose. Excess sugar or glucose draws fluid out from body tissues and is excreted in the urine. This causes a dramatic increase in urination (polyuria) which causes dehydration. The body tries to compensate with extreme thirst (polydipsia). The body’s cells also need to be fed which causes extreme hunger (polyphagia). This cycle is known by some as “starving in the land of plenty”. The glucose is in the body but it can’t get into the cells to be used for energy. This is an urgent dangerous situation!
It is important to know that approximately 90 percent of children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes do not have a family history of the disease. (2)
Signs and Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes for quick reference
According to the JDRF (formerly called the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund), the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes must be taken very seriously. Many times the signs and symptoms are similar to having a severe cold or the flu. Call your doctor immediately if these are displayed. The signs and symptoms are referenced from the JDRF (3) If you do not have a doctor or can’t get ahold of yours, call an urgent care center or go to the hospital to get care.
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination
- Sudden vision changes (increased blood glucose causes the lens of the eye to change in shape and swell. This causes vision changes) (4)
- Glucose or sugar in the urine
- An odor found on the breath that is sweet and fruity (this is a sign that the body is using fat as energy since the glucose is not available for the cells. The term for this is diabetes ketoacidosis and can be life threatening. (5)
- Increased appetite with sudden weight loss
- Sleepy, drowsy and lethargic (the body is not getting enough glucose in the cells which may lead to this symptom)(6)
- Breathing that is heavy and labored and going into a stupor, lethargic and perhaps unconsciousness (these are signs of ketoacidosis. See number 5). (3)
What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is different than type 1 diabetes. It is not an autoimmune disease and usually develops slowly. The body still produces insulin but the insulin may not be effectively used or is “resisted” by the cells of the body. This is why many people with Type 2 diabetes are told they’re “insulin resistant”. Medications may be needed to decrease this resistance. Over time in many people with type 2 diabetes, insulin may be needed. The body may not be able to make enough insulin or the insulin that is made by the body is not effective. As mentioned above, many of the signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes are the same as type 1 diabetes because the net result is having excessive glucose in the blood.
Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes for quick reference
As type 2 diabetes develops gradually, many people with type 2 diabetes do not have any symptoms. It is important to go to your physician on a regular basis to be evaluated for diabetes. The Canadian Diabetes Association lists the following symptoms for type 2 diabetes. (7)
If these occur, call your doctor for an evaluation. Refer to the type 1 diabetes list of signs and symptoms for the reasoning of some of the symptoms. In some cases, they are the same because of the net result of increased glucose in the blood.
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent Urination
- Weight change (for type 2 this could be a weight loss as in type 1 or a weight gain. People with type 2 diabetes increase their resistance to insulin when they gain weight. This will decrease the ability of cells in the body to use insulin and the result is an increased blood glucose.)
- Vision changes and blurring of vision
- Frequent infections (bacteria tends to thrive when blood glucose is high, this may include urinary tract infections and yeast infections)
- Wounds and cuts that take a long time to heal
- Tingling and numbness in the extremities (fingers and feet) High blood glucose over time can lead to damage to the nerves. This is a type of neuropathy common in diabetes.
- In men, trouble with erections. See my past blogs on erectile dysfunction and diabetes.
As you can see, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of diabetes. Do not delay in calling your physician if you think you may have diabetes. The only way to be sure is to be tested. Talk to your health care team and get further guidance about this very important issue. If there are signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes, treat this as a medical emergency. Get help immediately!