Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes may be difficult to recognize because they are mild if they occur at all.
It’s the most likely explanation for the fact that millions of people have the disease but aren’t aware they have it. The Centers for Disease Control data suggests that 7.2 million people don’t realize they have diabetes, and even more have prediabetes without realizing it.
Begin by learning the risk factors that increase the likelihood that you’ll develop diabetes. If you have a family history of the disease, you’re already at increased risk. If you’re obese, inactive, and Hispanic, African-American, or Asian-American, your risk factor is higher.
Though you cannot overcome your genetic risk factors, you can overcome some of those risk factors by maintaining a healthy weight, developing an active lifestyle, and eating a diet heavy on whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and lean protein.
Because type 2 diabetes inhibits the body’s ability to use the hormone insulin properly, it results in insulin resistance. Insulin carries sugar, or glucose, to your cells for energy, so when the hormone doesn’t function properly, glucose remains in the blood instead of being distributed to the cells
When sugar accumulates in the blood, serious problems like nerve damage, vision problems, and heart disease can occur.
The key to controlling the advance of the disease once you have it is recognizing it as soon as possible. Though the most common warning signs are subtle, they may indicate the presence of the disease, so you should mention them to your doctor as soon as possible.
- Frequent urination and resulting thirst may signal diabetes.
When excess glucose builds up in the blood, the kidneys respond by flushing it out of the blood and into the urine. As a result, urine production is higher, and the need to urinate increases.
Additionally, the need to urinate creates a domino effect. Because the body pulls fluid from its tissues, and because more fluids are lost to frequent urination, the body becomes dehydrated. As a result, you may find yourself feeling thirsty or drinking more than usual. You may also experience symptoms of dry mouth.
If you find yourself using the bathroom more often, or waking during the night to use the bathroom, talk to your doctor.
- Frequent hunger may indicate the presence of diabetes.
When your body is unable to use insulin properly, the cells don’t get the glucose they need to function well. In patients with type 2 diabetes, insulin isn’t compatible with muscle, fat, and other tissues.
To compensate, the pancreas creates more insulin to compensate, resulting in high insulin levels throughout the body. The increased insulin sends signals to your body that it is hungry.
Depleted energy levels as a result of the insulin problem also cause your body to feel hungry. As a result, eating more will only worsen the problem as glucose levels climb but are not converted to energy.
If you suspect a change, track your hunger cravings for a period of time to determine whether there is a change from your usual routine. If you believe there is, consult your doctor.
- Diabetes may cause unexplained weight loss.
If you urinate more often, you’re probably losing calories and water from your body. Additionally, type 2 diabetes prevents your cells from getting the glucose they require, which forces the body to burn fat and muscle for energy, which may cause weight loss.
If you have unintentionally lost more than 10 pounds in 6-12 months, notify your doctor of the change.
- Genital itchiness may indicate diabetes.
The reason for this may be two-fold.
When blood sugar isn’t well-controlled, blood sugar levels spike and often cause an overgrowth of yeast, which is naturally present in the body. As a result, men and women can experience yeast infections, resulting in genital itching.
Additionally, diabetes often causes nerve damage, or neuropathy, when high glucose levels damage nerve fibers. Diabetes can also trigger hormone changes which alter the body’s normal functions. In some cases, men with diabetic neuropathy may develop erectile dysfunction (ED) earlier than men without the disease.
If you experience frequent yeast infections, genital itching, or nerve changes, notify your doctor of the development.
- Blurred vision may indicate high blood glucose.
When your body’s glucose levels are too high, fluid may be pulled from other places in the body to compensate. It’s the reason for the body’s increased thirst and urination, and it can also explain the blurred vision that often occurs with diabetes.
Blurred vision is a naturally-occurring part of aging so it may be overlooked as a symptom of diabetes. Although blurred vision associated with diabetes may be temporary, you should mention it to your doctor.
- Fatigue may signal insulin resistance.
When the body is unable to process glucose correctly, cells lack the glucose they need to provide energy to the body. The resulting fatigue may disrupt normal daily function because it interferes with the rest of your body’s capabilities.
Fatigue can also be the result of the dehydration that occurs with diabetes, or the result of damage to the kidneys, liver, and heart, which can also cause fatigue.
- Diabetes may cause wounds to heal slowly.
When the body’s glucose levels are too high, the body’s white blood cell function is impaired, which leaves the body less able to fight bacteria. Diabetes also causes poor circulation, which means that red blood cells move more slowly.
These conditions make it difficult for the body to deliver nutrients to wounds, meaning the body can’t heal itself well.
The other threat is that nerve pain may prevent people with diabetes from realizing they have injured themselves. Trauma to certain parts of the body may go undetected, which can increase the odds that the wound worsens or gets infected.
Research also indicates that weakened hormones negatively impact healing, as does a decrease in the body’s collagen production.
Controlling your blood sugar
A study this year examined the impact of a breakfast routine as a tool to help manage type 2 diabetes.
Dr. H. Douglas Goff examined the effects of increased protein consumption at breakfast and their impact on glucose levels and appetite throughout the day. The study found that consuming the whey and casein proteins that are naturally present in milk releases gastric hormones that slow digestion, which results in a feeling of fullness. The whey proteins achieved the effect more quickly, while the casein proteins were longer-lasting.
Overall, the strategy reduced glucose levels after breakfast and kept them down after lunch. Furthermore, milk with additional whey protein even showed a modest effect on pre-lunch glucose levels, showing a greater impact even than regular milk.
Controlling blood sugar keeps other symptoms in check, and ultimately reduces the symptoms of diabetes overall.
Recognize the risks
A recent study of newly diagnosed patients indicates that almost half of those newly diagnosed with diabetes are under the age of 34.
Of those newly diagnosed, the most common symptoms are high blood pressure, increased thirst, and being overweight. Worse yet, one in five of those newly diagnosed already have signs of nerve damage, such as tingling and pain.
Interestingly, outcomes for older people with type 2 diabetes are improving, while outcomes for younger patients are worsening, perhaps because of rapidly developing complications.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for those with type 2 diabetes is the large number of comorbidities or additional diseases that co-occur with the original disease: cardiovascular disorder, coronary artery disease, and stroke are among them. Additionally, though, nerve damage, sleep apnea, liver disease, and other diseases may result as well.
Refuse to ignore the problem
Many of the symptoms and problems of diabetes can be reduced or sometimes eliminated by controlling glucose levels. Conversely, many of the problems deteriorate quickly when blood sugar levels are uncontrolled.
Share your concerns with your doctor so you can detect any problems before they worsen. If you have any of the risk factors, talk with your doctor about your concerns and consider the best way forward.
More and more people are living healthy, fulfilling lives despite a diabetes diagnosis, so the fear of a diagnosis shouldn’t paralyze you. Give yourself every opportunity to address the problem before it becomes broader than simply your blood glucose.
Debby Montgomery Johnson, President, and CEO at BenfoComplete.