What are the First Signs of Being Diabetic?

Contents

Introduction

When you hear the word diabetes, you often think of blood tests and sugar crashes. While they are a part of the disease, diabetes is a much more complex condition than we usually imagine. There are different types of diabetes, different ways of developing diabetes, and even different symptoms associated with different types of diabetes.

Diabetes

In order to reduce the likelihood of the development of diabetes, the main causes and risk factors must be clearly understood. Diabetes can be divided into three categories: Pre diabetes, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. There is also gestational diabetes, which only affects those who are pregnant. While the symptoms for all these types of diabetes are similar, the causes and treatments are fairly different. 

Prediabetes

What is it?

Prediabetes is a condition that preludes diabetes. It is when your glucose levels are not exactly diabetic level, but still higher than normal. People with prediabetes cannot process glucose in the bloodstream as effectively anymore. This causes a slight buildup of sugar in the blood and your cells may not be able to absorb as much energy. The good news is that prediabetes is reversible. You can drop out of the prediabetic range by making healthier lifestyle choices and monitoring your blood sugar regularly. 

Signs of Prediabetes

As a borderline diabetic, your symptoms would be similar to those of diabetes. Signs such as blurry vision, increased thirst, frequent urination, and fatigue are all warning signs that you should look out for. Additionally, there are several risk factors that you should look out for; being overweight, having a large waist size (meaning that your body fat is concentrated in the abdominal area), unhealthy and high processed diets, inactivity, age, history of diabetes in your family, PCOS, smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and race (some races are more susceptible to developing diabetes) are all diabetic risk factors.  

Hyperglycemia

Hyperglycemia occurs when there are excessive amounts of sugar in the bloodstream. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. When they are ingested, the body breaks it down into something called simple sugars, allowing it to be used by the body for energy effectively. After this, the pancreas will release something called insulin. As mentioned above, insulin is the hormone that enables the body to use the broken down sugars in the bloodstream. If your body is not able to use all the insulin released, this can cause the sugar levels in the blood to increase. It is quite a dangerous predisposition, and it often does not cause any noticeable symptoms until blood sugar levels are already very high these symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Increased hunger and thirst levels
  • Tiredness
  • Wounds that are slow to heal, or do not heal at all
  • Blurred vision

Experiencing consistent hyperglycaemia for a long period of time can lead to an increased risk of developing complications induced by diabetes, such as kidney disease, neuropathy (a form of nerve damage), and eye disease.   

Signs of Hypoglycemia

Although hypoglycaemia is not synonymous with diabetes, it is a symptom that characterizes diabetes. Hypoglycaemia is another word for low blood sugar. This occurs when the sugar/glucose in your blood drops to abnormal levels. It is risky because the body needs glucose to fuel our everyday actions, and when this is depleted, the brain loses its ability to function properly. If you have developed hypoglycemia, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Shakiness or nervousness
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Excessive Hunger or thirst
  • Sleepiness
  • Tingles or numbness in tongue and cheek
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Heightened heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting 

If hypoglycemia is left untreated, it can escalate from headaches and dizziness to death. This is why it is imperative that low blood sugar levels are monitored and treated as soon as possible. Additionally, there are several factors that can cause hypoglycemia.

  • It may be a side effect of a type of medication. Medicines such as paracetamol, antiviral drugs, and some heart medications are known for lowering blood pressure. 
  • Skipping a meal is typically not the end of the world, but for a diabetic person, it can have major consequences. Skipping or delaying meals can lead to low blood sugar levels, as the balance of your food intake and insulin production will be obscured. 

The good news is that hypoglycaemia is 100% treatable. There are several steps that you can take to treat hypoglycemia. Firstly, eating a sugary snack such as a soft drink or a bowl of fruit juice will instantly increase your blood sugar levels. Secondly, you can incorporate more slow releasing carbohydrates into  your main meals. These are foods that are slowly absorbed into the bloodstream when ingested, which leads to a gradual increase in blood sugar levels and therefore a more sustained release of energy. These foods are called complex carbohydrates, and examples of these are foods such as bread, potatoes, or a glass of milk.  

Signs of Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a type of diabetes that is genetic, and symptoms are normally present from early in life. It is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the insulin producing cells in your pancreas, leaving the function of your pancreas ineffective. Someone may have type 1 diabetes if they are experiencing increased thirst or hunger, frequent urination, unintended weight loss, weakness, and blurry eyesight. 

Signs of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, unlike type 1 diabetes, can be developed. You may have developed type 2 diabetes if you are experiencing increased thirst or hunger, frequent urination, unintended weight loss, weakness, and blurry eyesight. Unlike type 1 diabetes, you may also notice that wounds take longer to heal (or don’t heal at all), you have a tingling sensation in your hands and feet or you repeatedly get thrush.

What happens if diabetes is left uncontrolled? One of the more severe complications that can arise from leaving diabetic symptoms unmonitored is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This occurs when there is a buildup of waste products in the blood from the body’s breakdown of fat. It is the body's response to the inability to utilize sugar in the blood. Whether the body can't produce insulin or is highly resistant to insulin, it prohibits the use of sugar for energy, and resorts to breaking down fat for energy.

What should I do if I think I have Diabetes?

Diagnosis

If you or your doctor think you have diabetes, there is a simple way to test for this. As the root of diabetes comes from the inner workings of the blood, a blood test is the most effective test you can take. You can monitor your blood sugar levels at home using a finger stick or continuous glucose monitoring system. The home monitoring system allows you to quickly act on any concerning changes. Additionally, a doctor may draw your blood at the hospital for a more accurate indication of your blood sugar levels, known as an A1C test. The way these tests work is by measuring the exact percentage of glucose in your blood that has been bound to hemoglobin (the protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen). They then take this percentage and mark it agains a score meter. Scores of more than 6.5 typically indicate the presence of diabetes. Urinary ketone level test kits are also a way to test for the presence of DKA and these can be purchased over the counter.

Management of Diabetes

As there are different types and symptoms for diabetes, there are also different ways to manage and treat the disease effectively. If you have been suspected to have hyperglycemia, your GP can prescribe a drug regimen to lower the glucose in your bloodstream to a safe level. However, if you experience symptoms such as DKA symptoms, unresponsive home management techniques, and progressive illnesses (like stroke or wounds that won't heal), then you should visit the emergency center. 

Although there are drugs that can help you manage diabetes symptoms, you may want to make certain lifestyle changes to avoid hyperglycemia completely.

  • Staying active is a very important lifestyle change. Regular steady state exercise is effective because cardio exercises help in lowering overall glucose levels in the blood. You can go for a long walk or ride your bike leisurely to help your body use the glucose that is already in your bloodstream
  • Your diet is also one of the most important aspects of your life to monitor. It is important to develop healthy eating habits as a diabetic to keep all your organs functioning properly, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce the amount of harmful sugar consumed. Your GP or dietitian can help you with this. 
  • Stress management is another lifestyle change that may aid in diabetes management. Managing external stress and illnesses (which puts a strain on your physical body) can reduce and stress related glucose spikes in your blood.
  • Finally, if you have been prescribed any medication, make sure that the regimen and prescription suits your individual body and needs.

Summary

Diabetes is a very serious condition that can escalate to life threatening levels if not monitored correctly. Ensure that you keep track of your blood sugar, are always in the normal range of the recommended glucose levels, sustain a healthy eating plan, keep up regular exercise regimens, and follow your medication plan to enable you to live a healthy and fulfilling lifeIf you suspect that you may have diabetes, or want to do more to change your pre diabetic status, please do not hesitate to contact your GP. 

References

  1. Higuera V. Hyperglycemia and diabetes: Relationship, symptoms, and treatments [Internet]. Medicalnewstoday.com. 2019 [cited 2022 Aug 2]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/311204
  2. Prediabetes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 2]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prediabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20355278
  3. Type 2 diabetes - symptoms [Internet]. nhs.uk. [cited 2022 Aug 2]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms/
  4. Type 2 diabetes symptoms [Internet]. WebMD. [cited 2022 Aug 2]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-2-diabetes-symptoms

Author: Klarity Team

This article has been written by one of our medical experts.

Klarity logo in white
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles.