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Understanding the signs and symptoms of Diabetes

Team AckoAug 23, 2022

Diabetes affects people across age groups, ethnicities and genders. In fact, in 2019, it was estimated that over 77 million Indians suffered from Diabetes. If you are curious to know more about this disease, read ahead. In this article, we will elaborate on diabetes symptoms, its causes and prevention tips.

Diabetes Symptoms

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that gives rise to higher than normal levels of sugar in the bloodstream. This occurs due to lack or reduction of Insulin production in the body. Insulin is a hormone in the human body that is responsible for converting sugar stored in cells into energy. When Diabetes kicks in, either your body doesn’t produce sufficient insulin or is unable to utilise the available insulin in an effective manner. This can lead to a host of health complications. Note that Diabetes is also referred to as Diabetes Mellitus.

Early signs and symptoms of Diabetes

As with most diseases, early diagnosis and treatment of Diabetes can help avoid the development of more serious complications. There are primarily three variants of the disease, namely, Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes. Symptoms for each type vary slightly.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease wherein your body’s immune system attacks and destroys its own pancreatic cells. The pancreas produces a hormone called “Insulin” which is responsible for storing glucose obtained from food and converting it into energy. So, when Diabetes sets in, the body produces no or insufficient Insulin. Thus, there is a spike in the level of sugar/glucose in the blood and energy is not produced.

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

The common Type 1 Diabetes symptoms include the following.

  • Unintentional weight reduction

  • Extreme craving for food

  • Blurry eyesight

  • Unusual dehydration

  • Frequent urination

  • Fatigue

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 Diabetesis diagnosed when your body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin, and consequently, glucose/sugar accumulates in the blood. This resistance is usually because your body’s cells are unable to utilise the available Insulin or there is insufficient production of the hormone in your body.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

The common type 2 Diabetes symptoms include the following.

  • Dry mouth

  • Increased hunger and thirst

  • Unintended weight loss

  • Blurry vision

  • Frequent urination

  • Tiredness

  • Headaches

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational Diabetes is diagnosed when a high blood-sugar level is recorded during pregnancy. This is usually due to a hormone produced by the placenta for pregnancy, which also causes your cells to become more insulin resistant. In most cases, Gestational Diabetes subsides once the baby is delivered. However, women diagnosed with this type of Diabetes are more prone to develop Type 2 Diabetes later on in life.

Gestational Diabetes symptoms

Some of the common Gestational Diabetes symptoms include the following.

  • Feeling tired

  • Increased thirst

  • Dry mouth

  • Sugar in the urine

  • Bladder, vaginal and skin infections

The different causes of diabetes

Each type of Diabetes has a different cause.

Causes of Type 1 Diabetes

In Type 1 Diabetes, doctors are unable to identify why the body’s immune system attacks its own pancreatic cells. It is speculated that genes play a role in this misjudgement. Another theory suggests that a virus triggers this attack.

Causes of Type 2 Diabetes

The causes of Type 2  Diabetes can be attributed to genetic and lifestyle factors. People who are overweight are more prone to develop this type of Diabetes. Also, having excessive fat in the belly region is known to make body cells more resistant to the effects of insulin. Thus, this disease usually runs in families who have genes that make them more likely to be obese.

Causes of Gestational Diabetes

Women who happen to be overweight at the time of getting pregnant or put on excessive weight during the course of pregnancy are more likely to develop Gestational Diabetes.

Is there any difference between symptoms of diabetes for Men and Women?

Not only do diabetes symptoms vary from Type to Type, they also vary between the genders. Although most of the signs and symptoms of Diabetes are common for both men and women, the following are a few exceptions.

Symptoms of Diabetes in men Symptoms of Diabetes in women
The following are the common diabetes symptoms men display. Reduced muscle mass and strength, Erectile dysfunction, Low libido The following are the common diabetes symptoms in women. Dry and itchy skin, Yeast infections, Urinary tract infections.

Factors that increase your risk of developing Diabetes

Based on the type, there are different factors that can increase the risk of you developing diabetes.

Risk factors for Type 1 Diabetes

Although Type 1 Diabetes is common amongst children and teenagers, it can develop at any age. Also, since it is a genetic condition, it is usually hereditary as well. Thus, if your sibling or parent suffers from it, you are more susceptible to developing it.

Risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes

The following factors increase your chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

  • If you are obese.

  • If your parent or sibling suffers from this condition.

  • If you are above the age of 45.

  • If you have been previously diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes.

  • If you don’t engage in much physical activity.

  • If you have high triglycerides, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

  • If you have been previously diagnosed with prediabetes.

Risk factors for Gestational Diabetes

Some of the factors that increase your risk of developing Gestational Diabetes include the following.

  • If you are obese.

  • If you are above the age of 25.

  • If you have family members who have suffered from this condition.

  • If you have been diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes during a previous pregnancy.

  • If you have given birth to a baby weighing more than 4 kgs.

  • If you suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

Difference between high and low blood sugar symptoms

An increased blood sugar level is termed Hyperglycemia, and having a low blood sugar level is called Hypoglycemia. Both these conditions are unhealthy and can have negative repercussions for diabetics and non-diabetics alike.

The below table shows the symptoms of Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia.

Condition Symptoms
Hypoglycemia Difficulty concentrating, Hunger, Headache, Nausea, Anxiety, Irritability, Excessive sweating, Disorientation, Palpitation
Hyperglycemia Nausea, Fruity smelling breath, Dry mouth, Abdominal pain, Headache, Frequent urination, Blurry vision, Constant thirst and/or hunger

Health complications caused by diabetes

If Diabetes is left untreated, it can lead to severe health complications like blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, etc. The longer you leave your Diabetes untreated, the more severe the health complications it may cause.

Some of the other common health complications that arise from untreated Diabetes include the following.

  • Hearing loss

  • Stroke

  • Dementia

  • Depression

  • Neuropathy

  • Retinopathy or loss of vision

  • Heart disease

  • Nephropathy

  • Fungal and bacterial skin infections

  • Infections and sores that don’t heal easily

Health complications caused due to Gestational Diabetes

Gestational Diabetes can cause health risks in both the mother and child. The following are some of the common health complications that result from this condition.

  • Overweight newborn

  • Stillbirth

  • Jaundice

  • Premature birth

  • Low blood sugar

  • Increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes in the mother

What is Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs when your body does not have sufficient insulin to convert sugar into energy. In such an event, your liver converts body fat into energy and in the process, produces ketones in the blood. High amounts of ketones in the blood can be very dangerous. If left untreated, it can even result in death. DKA is more prevalent in individuals suffering from Type 1 Diabetes than the other types.

Symptoms of Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Some of the common symptoms of DKA include the following.

  • Hyperglycemia

  • Nausea

  • Dry skin

  • Weakness

  • Abdominal pain

  • Thirst and dryness of mouth

  • Excessive urination

  • Increased concentration of ketones in the urine

  • Confusion

  • Loss of consciousness

Treatment for Diabetic Ketoacidosis

The common treatments of DKA are the following.

  • Fluid replacement: During DKA, you are likely to lose a lot of body fluids (dehydration). This can cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. Fluid replacement treatment involves the injection of intravenous fluids to facilitate the rehydration of your body.

  • Electrolyte replacement: Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals in your body that are essential for the proper functioning of your nerves and heart. When your insulin levels decrease, the electrolyte count in your body also decreases. As its name suggests, electrolyte replacement treatment replaces the body’s electrolytes and is commonly administered via an IV.

  • Insulin therapy: In this treatment, Insulin will be administered via an IV tube, and your blood sugar will simultaneously be monitored. Once you reach healthy blood sugar levels, the treatment will be stopped.

How to identify the starting symptoms of Sugar Diabetes in children

As previously listed, there are different signs and symptoms of diabetes in men and women. But, since Diabetes can set in at any age, even children are susceptible to it. Thus, here are the tell-tale symptoms of sugar diabetes in children.

  • Fruity or wine-like smelling breath

  • Drowsiness

  • Huge appetite

  • Incessant thirst

  • Breathing difficulty

  • Mysterious weight loss

  • Frequent urination

  • Drop in energy level

  • Behaviour change

Tests to diagnose Diabetes

If you show symptoms of Diabetes, it is wise to get tested immediately. Usually, pregnant women are tested for diabetes at the time of their second or third trimester of pregnancy.

The following are some of the usual medical tests used to diagnose diabetes.

  • A1C test: This test measures your average blood glucose level during the previous two or three months.

  • Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG) test: This test determines your blood sugar level and is usually undertaken after an eight-hour-long fast.

  • 3-hour glucose tolerance test: Under this test, your blood sugar will be tested after an overnight fast. After that, you will be made to drink a sugary liquid, and your blood sugar will be checked once every hour, for three hours.

  • Glucose challenge test: Under this test, your blood sugar is checked one hour after you consume a sugary liquid.

Diabetes treatments

To treat Diabetes, doctors administer medication either orally or via an injection. Here are the treatment methods for the different types of Diabetes.

Treatments for Type 1 Diabetes

Insulin replacement is the most common treatment for Type 1 Diabetes. It substitutes for the Insulin that your body is unable to produce on its own and helps to break down glucose into energy.

The following are the four types of Insulin that are commonly prescribed by doctors.

  • Rapid-acting Insulin: This type of Insulin starts to work within 15 minutes of administration and lasts for up to 3 or 4 hours.

  • Short-acting Insulin: This form of Insulin starts working within 30 minutes of administration and lasts up to 6 to 8 hours.

  • Intermediate-acting Insulin: This type of Insulin starts working within 1 to 2 hours of administration and lasts for up to 12 to 18 hours.

  • Long-acting Insulin: The effects of this type of Insulin kicks in after 1 hour of injection and last for up to 24 or more hours.

Treatments for Type 2 Diabetes

Usually, doctors prescribe diet and exercise for individuals suffering from Type 2 Diabetes. If such actions are not sufficient for lowering blood sugar, medications are also prescribed. Some of the common medications include Metformin, Glitazones, Sulfonylureas, etc. Sometimes Insulin is also prescribed for individuals with this condition. If you suffer from Type 2 Diabetes, kindly consult a doctor to find out the exact medications you need to take.

Treatments for Gestational Diabetes

Usually, dietary changes and exercise are prescribed for women suffering from Gestational Diabetes. Sometimes insulin is also administered and is known not to affect the new life in the womb.

Dietary tips to combat Diabetes

Changing your diet alone can sometimes be sufficient to control Diabetes. The following are some diet tips to help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level.

  • Limit your consumption of sugary and salty foods.

  • Eat small meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels steady.

  • Eat healthy foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean poultry (like fish) and healthy fats (like nuts and olive oil).

  • Consult a dietician to create a meal plan that provides a healthy balance of fats, carbs and proteins.

Note: These are generic tips, please consult your doctor before taking any action related to your diet.

Prevention of Diabetes

Unfortunately, there are currently no known prevention measures for Type 1 Diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes, on the other hand, can be prevented by eating healthy, exercising regularly and avoiding smoking. These same tips are known to delay Type 2 Diabetes after enduring Gestational Diabetes.

What to do if I develop Diabetes symptoms?

If you notice diabetes symptoms in you or a loved one, make sure to get medical attention at the earliest. Your doctor is likely to check your blood sugar levels and prescribe lifestyle changes and medication. Getting treated early can help you stabilise quickly and prevent more serious complications.

Frequently asked questions

This section addresses the frequently asked questions asked regarding the causes, signs and symptoms of Diabetes. Read ahead to get your queries answered.

What are the most common diabetes symptoms?

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The most common diabetes symptoms include excessive hunger, thirst and urination.

What is considered a healthy blood sugar level?

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A blood sugar level below 140 mg/dL is considered healthy.

What is prediabetes?

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Prediabetes is when your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. If no measures are taken to improve blood sugar levels at this stage, it can lead to the development of Type 2 Diabetes. A blood sugar reading between 140 mg/dL and 199 mg/dL is usually considered as Prediabetes. Anything above that is considered as Diabetes.

What is Diabetes Insipidus?

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Diabetes Insipidus occurs when a hormonal abnormality causes an imbalance in a person’s body fluids. This may cause the affected to drink a large amount of water and urinate frequently. Diabetes Insipidus has nothing to do with blood sugar. Since it shares common symptoms with regular Diabetes (Diabetes Mellitus), it also shares the same name.

What is the role of glucose in the human body?

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Glucose is a source of energy for human cells and primarily comes from food. In the absence of food, it can also be produced by the liver. In such cases, stored glycogen is converted to glucose by the liver to maintain the normal functioning of the body.

What is the role of Insulin in the body?

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Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells in the pancreas. Its primary role is to convert glucose in the cells into energy.

What are the types of foods that Diabetics should avoid?

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Deep-fried fish, the fat of meat and fried meats are some of the foods a diabetic should avoid.

What is referred to as the honeymoon phase in Diabetes?

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The honeymoon phase is a term used in Type 1 Diabetes. It refers to the phase after the diagnosis of Diabetes, wherein the remaining beta cells in the pancreas produce sufficient Insulin for the body. Thus, during this phase there will usually be no diabetes symptoms. But as time goes by, more cells will be killed by the body’s immune system, and the production of sufficient amounts of insulin will cease. Following that, diabetes symptoms may start manifesting. The honeymoon phase can last from up to three months to one year.

Can drinking water regularly reduce the risk of developing a diagnosis?

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Yes, drinking water regularly can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels.

Can Diabetes be cured?

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No, Diabetes cannot be cured, but with diet, medication and lifestyle changes, you can bring your blood sugar to a normal level.

Does age play a role in Diabetes?

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Yes, age is a factor in Type 2 Diabetes, but not in Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes can set in at any age, but is usually diagnosed before the age of 40. Type 2 Diabetes on the other hand usually sets in during late adulthood, between the ages of 45 to 64 years.

What is Type 1.5 Diabetes?

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Type 1.5 diabetes, also known as latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), is an autoimmune disease that shares features of both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. This condition inhibits the functioning of the beta cells in the pancreases faster than in Type 2 Diabetes. Because it shares Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms and onsets mostly in adults, it is sometimes misdiagnosed as Type 2 Diabetes.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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