When you have diabetes, your body becomes less efficient at breaking food down into sugar, so you have more sugar sitting in your bloodstream, says Dobbins. “Your body gets rid of it by flushing it out in the urine.” So going to the bathroom a lot could be one of the diabetes symptoms you’re missing. Most patients aren’t necessarily aware of how often they use the bathroom, says Dr. Cypess. “When we ask about it, we often hear, ‘Oh yeah, I guess I’m going more often than I used to,’” he says. But one red flag is whether the need to urinate keeps you up at night. Once or twice might be normal, but if it’s affecting your ability to sleep, that could be a diabetes symptom to pay attention to. Make sure you know these diabetes myths that could sabotage your health.
Blurred vision can result from elevated blood sugar. Similarly, fluid that is pulled from the cells into the bloodstream to dilute the sugar can also be pulled from the lenses of your eyes. When the lens of the eye becomes dry, the eye is unable to focus, resulting in blurry vision. It's important that all people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes have a dilated eye exam shortly after diagnosis. Damage to the eye can even occur before a diagnosis of diabetes exists.
Visual impairment and blindness are common sequelae of uncontrolled diabetes. The three most frequently occurring problems involving the eye are diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. photocoagulation of destructive lesions of the retina with laser beams can be used to delay further progress of pathologic changes and thereby preserve sight in the affected eye.
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease caused by inherited and/or acquired deficiency in production of insulin by the pancreas, or by the ineffectiveness of the insulin produced. Such a deficiency results in increased concentrations of glucose in the blood, which in turn damage many of the body's systems, in particular the blood vessels and nerves.
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Finally, modern society should probably shoulder at least some of the blame for the type 2 diabetes epidemic. Access to cheap, calorie-laden foods may even influence type 2 risk beyond simply their effects on body weight; the stuff that is in processed foods, like high-fructose corn syrup, could alter the body's chemistry or gut microbes in a way that affects health. Add to that the fact that most Americans are sedentary, spending their time sitting in cubicles, driving in cars, playing video games, or watching television. The lack of exercise, plus the abundance of unhealthy foods, cultivates a fertile breeding ground for diabetes.
For people who want to avoid drugs, taking an aggressive approach to healthy eating plan and lifestyle change is an option. It isn't easy, but if someone is very committed and motivated, lifestyle changes can be enough to maintain a healthy blood sugar level and to lose weight. Learning about a healthy diabetes diet (a low glycemic load diet) can be an good place to start.
Poor vision, limited manual dexterity due to arthritis, tremor, or stroke, or other physical limitations may make monitoring blood glucose levels more difficult for older people. However, special monitors are available. Some have large numerical displays that are easier to read. Some provide audible instructions and results. Some monitors read blood glucose levels through the skin and do not require a blood sample. People can consult a diabetes educator to determine which meter is most appropriate.
Whether you’re dealing with frequent UTIs or skin infections, undiagnosed diabetes may be to blame. The high blood sugar associated with diabetes can weaken a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to infection. In more advanced cases of the disease, nerve damage and tissue death can open people up to further infections, often in the skin, and could be a precursor to amputation.
Blood travels throughout your body, and when too much glucose (sugar) is present, it disrupts the normal environment that the organ systems of your body function within. In turn, your body starts to exhibit signs that things are not working properly inside—those are the symptoms of diabetes people sometimes experience. If this problem—caused by a variety of factors—is left untreated, it can lead to a number of damaging complications such as heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, and blood vessel disease that may require an amputation, nerve damage, and impotence in men.
Environmental factors are important, because even identical twins have only a 30-60% concordance for type 1 diabetes mellitus and because incidence rates vary in genetically similar populations under different living conditions.  No single factor has been identified, but infections and diet are considered the 2 most likely environmental candidates.
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Scientists have done studies of twins to help estimate how important genes are in determining one's risk of developing diabetes. Identical twins have identical genes and thus the same genetic risk for a disease. Research has found that if one identical twin has type 1 diabetes, the chance that the other twin will get the disease is roughly 40 or 50 percent. For type 2 diabetes, that risk goes up to about 80 or 90 percent. This might suggest that genes play a bigger role in type 2 than in type 1, but that isn't necessarily so. Type 2 is far more common in the general population than type 1, which means that regardless of genetics both twins are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
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Diabetic ketoacidosis can be caused by infections, stress, or trauma, all of which may increase insulin requirements. In addition, missing doses of insulin is also an obvious risk factor for developing diabetic ketoacidosis. Urgent treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis involves the intravenous administration of fluid, electrolytes, and insulin, usually in a hospital intensive care unit. Dehydration can be very severe, and it is not unusual to need to replace 6-7 liters of fluid when a person presents in diabetic ketoacidosis. Antibiotics are given for infections. With treatment, abnormal blood sugar levels, ketone production, acidosis, and dehydration can be reversed rapidly, and patients can recover remarkably well.
Heart disease accounts for approximately 50% of all deaths among people with diabetes in industrialized countries. Risk factors for heart disease in people with diabetes include smoking, high blood pressure, high serum cholesterol and obesity. Diabetes negates the protection from heart disease which pre-menopausal women without diabetes experience. Recognition and management of these conditions may delay or prevent heart disease in people with diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is usually associated with being overweight (BMI greater than 25), and is harder to control when food choices are not adjusted, and you get no physical activity. And while it’s true that too much body fat and physical inactivity (being sedentary) does increase the likelihood of developing type 2, even people who are fit and trim can develop this type of diabetes.2,3
Longer-term, the goals of treatment are to prolong life, reduce symptoms, and prevent diabetes-related complications such as blindness, kidney failure, and amputation of limbs. These goals are accomplished through education, insulin use, meal planning and weight control, exercise, foot care, and careful self-testing of blood glucose levels. Self-testing of blood glucose is accomplished through regular use of a blood glucose monitor (pictured, right). This machine can quickly and easily measure the level of blood glucose based by analysing the level from a small drop of blood that is usually obtained from the tip of a finger. You will also require regular tests for glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c). This measures your overall control over several months.
Several common medications can impair the body's use of insulin, causing a condition known as secondary diabetes. These medications include treatments for high blood pressure (furosemide, clonidine, and thiazide diuretics), drugs with hormonal activity (oral contraceptives, thyroid hormone, progestins, and glucocorticorids), and the anti-inflammation drug indomethacin. Several drugs that are used to treat mood disorders (such as anxiety and depression) also can impair glucose absorption. These drugs include haloperidol, lithium carbonate, phenothiazines, tricyclic antidepressants, and adrenergic agonists. Other medications that can cause diabetes symptoms include isoniazid, nicotinic acid, cimetidine, and heparin. A 2004 study found that low levels of the essential mineral chromium in the body may be linked to increased risk for diseases associated with insulin resistance.
Is it your fault for getting type 2 diabetes? No – type 2 diabetes is not a personal failing. It develops through a combination of factors that are still being uncovered and better understood. Lifestyle (food, exercise, stress, sleep) certainly plays a major role, but genetics play a significant role as well. Type 2 diabetes is often described in the media as a result of being overweight, but the relationship is not that simple. Many overweight individuals never get type 2, and some people with type 2 were never overweight, (although obesity is probably an underlying cause of insulin resistance). To make matters worse, when someone gains weight (for whatever reason), the body makes it extremely difficult to lose the new weight and keep it off. If it were just a matter of choice or a bit of willpower, we would probably all be skinny. At its core, type 2 involves two physiological issues: resistance to the insulin made by the person’s beta cells and too little insulin production relative to the amount one needs.
A random blood sugar of greater than 11.1 mmol/l (200 mg/dl) in association with typical symptoms or a glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) of ≥ 48 mmol/mol (≥ 6.5 DCCT %) is another method of diagnosing diabetes. In 2009 an International Expert Committee that included representatives of the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) recommended that a threshold of ≥ 48 mmol/mol (≥ 6.5 DCCT %) should be used to diagnose diabetes. This recommendation was adopted by the American Diabetes Association in 2010. Positive tests should be repeated unless the person presents with typical symptoms and blood sugars >11.1 mmol/l (>200 mg/dl).
People with glucose levels between normal and diabetic have impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) or insulin resistance. People with impaired glucose tolerance do not have diabetes, but are at high risk for progressing to diabetes. Each year, 1% to 5% of people whose test results show impaired glucose tolerance actually eventually develop diabetes. Weight loss and exercise may help people with impaired glucose tolerance return their glucose levels to normal. In addition, some physicians advocate the use of medications, such as metformin (Glucophage), to help prevent/delay the onset of overt diabetes.
Large, population-based studies in China, Finland and USA have recently demonstrated the feasibility of preventing, or delaying, the onset of diabetes in overweight subjects with mild glucose intolerance (IGT). The studies suggest that even moderate reduction in weight and only half an hour of walking each day reduced the incidence of diabetes by more than one half.
The elderly diabetic person is at increased risk of atrial fibrillation (odds ratio: 1.4 for men and 1.6 for women)232 and at twofold increased risk of thromboembolism from atrial fibrillation.233,234 We can find no subgroup analysis of the major atrial fibrillation trials to examine the benefits of warfarin specifically in older diabetic subjects. It appears that the adverse event rate in diabetic people drops from 8.6 events per 100 patients per year to 2.8 events with warfarin use.234 It is important to check for retinal new vessels when diabetic subjects are placed on warfarin, although the Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study235 showed no excess vitreous or preretinal hemorrhages in subjects given aspirin for vascular prophylaxis.
Oral medications are available to lower blood glucose in Type II diabetics. In 1990, 23.4 outpatient prescriptions for oral antidiabetic agents were dispensed. By 2001, the number had increased to 91.8 million prescriptions. Oral antidiabetic agents accounted for more than $5 billion dollars in worldwide retail sales per year in the early twenty-first century and were the fastest-growing segment of diabetes drugs. The drugs first prescribed for Type II diabetes are in a class of compounds called sulfonylureas and include tolbutamide, tolazamide, acetohexamide, and chlorpropamide. Newer drugs in the same class are now available and include glyburide, glimeperide, and glipizide. How these drugs work is not well understood, however, they seem to stimulate cells of the pancreas to produce more insulin. New medications that are available to treat diabetes include metformin, acarbose, and troglitizone. The choice of medication depends in part on the individual patient profile. All drugs have side effects that may make them inappropriate for particular patients. Some for example, may stimulate weight gain or cause stomach irritation, so they may not be the best treatment for someone who is already overweight or who has stomach ulcers. Others, like metformin, have been shown to have positive effects such as reduced cardiovascular mortality, but but increased risk in other situations. While these medications are an important aspect of treatment for Type II diabetes, they are not a substitute for a well planned diet and moderate exercise. Oral medications have not been shown effective for Type I diabetes, in which the patient produces little or no insulin.
There are a number of medications and other health problems that can predispose to diabetes. Some of the medications include: glucocorticoids, thiazides, beta blockers, atypical antipsychotics, and statins. Those who have previously had gestational diabetes are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Other health problems that are associated include: acromegaly, Cushing's syndrome, hyperthyroidism, pheochromocytoma, and certain cancers such as glucagonomas. Testosterone deficiency is also associated with type 2 diabetes.
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.