The classic symptoms of diabetes are polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (increased thirst), polyphagia (increased hunger), and weight loss. Other symptoms that are commonly present at diagnosis include a history of blurred vision, itchiness, peripheral neuropathy, recurrent vaginal infections, and fatigue. Many people, however, have no symptoms during the first few years and are diagnosed on routine testing. A small number of people with type 2 diabetes mellitus can develop a hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (a condition of very high blood sugar associated with a decreased level of consciousness and low blood pressure).
These diabetes complications are related to blood vessel diseases and are generally classified into small vessel disease, such as those involving the eyes, kidneys and nerves (microvascular disease), and large vessel disease involving the heart and blood vessels (macrovascular disease). Diabetes accelerates hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) of the larger blood vessels, leading to coronary heart disease (angina or heart attack), strokes, and pain in the lower extremities because of lack of blood supply (claudication).
The primary complications of diabetes due to damage in small blood vessels include damage to the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Damage to the eyes, known as diabetic retinopathy, is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina of the eye, and can result in gradual vision loss and eventual blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of having glaucoma, cataracts, and other eye problems. It is recommended that diabetics visit an eye doctor once a year. Damage to the kidneys, known as diabetic nephropathy, can lead to tissue scarring, urine protein loss, and eventually chronic kidney disease, sometimes requiring dialysis or kidney transplantation. Damage to the nerves of the body, known as diabetic neuropathy, is the most common complication of diabetes. The symptoms can include numbness, tingling, pain, and altered pain sensation, which can lead to damage to the skin. Diabetes-related foot problems (such as diabetic foot ulcers) may occur, and can be difficult to treat, occasionally requiring amputation. Additionally, proximal diabetic neuropathy causes painful muscle atrophy and weakness.
Your body is like a car—it needs fuel to function. Its primary source of fuel is glucose (sugar), which is gained from foods that contain carbohydrates that get broken down. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, takes sugar from your blood to your cells to use for energy. However, when you have diabetes, either your pancreas isn't making enough insulin or the insulin that your body is making isn't being used the way it's supposed to be, typically because the cells become resistant to it.
Although this newfound knowledge on sugar, and specifically added sugar, may prompt you to ditch the soda, juice, and processed foods, be mindful of the other factors that can similarly influence your risk for type 2 diabetes. Obesity, a family history of diabetes, a personal history of heart disease, and depression, for instance, are other predictors for the disease, according to the NIH.
Lose Weight: If you are overweight, losing weight can help your body use insulin. In fact, the American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes lose about 7 percent of their body weight, which should improve the way your body uses insulin and reduces insulin resistance. In addition, weight loss can help lower blood pressure, reduce joint pain, increase energy, and reduce sleep apnea and cholesterol. It can also reduce your risk of other diseases, including heart disease.
Diabetes means your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. With type 2 diabetes, the more common type, your body does not make or use insulin well. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into your cells to give them energy. Without insulin, too much glucose stays in your blood. Over time, high blood glucose can lead to serious problems with your heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves, and gums and teeth.
Being too heavy gets the bulk of the blame for triggering type 2 diabetes. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 85 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. But consider that the remaining 15 percent are not. Consider, too, that roughly two-thirds of overweight people and a third of those who are obese will never develop diabetes. In other words, normal-weight and thin people also develop type 2, while heavy people won't necessarily. Clearly, there is more to the connection between lifestyle and type 2 diabetes than just body size.
Persons with diabetes who take insulin must be careful about indulging in unplanned exercise. Strenuous physical activity can rapidly lower their blood sugar and precipitate a hypoglycemic reaction. For a person whose blood glucose level is over 250 mg/dl, the advice would be not to exercise at all. At this range, the levels of insulin are too low and the body would have difficulty transporting glucose into exercising muscles. The result of exercise would be a rise in blood glucose levels.
Random blood sugar test. A blood sample will be taken at a random time. Blood sugar values are expressed in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Regardless of when you last ate, a random blood sugar level of 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) or higher suggests diabetes, especially when coupled with any of the signs and symptoms of diabetes, such as frequent urination and extreme thirst.
Onset of type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented through proper nutrition and regular exercise. Intensive lifestyle measures may reduce the risk by over half. The benefit of exercise occurs regardless of the person's initial weight or subsequent weight loss. High levels of physical activity reduce the risk of diabetes by about 28%. Evidence for the benefit of dietary changes alone, however, is limited, with some evidence for a diet high in green leafy vegetables and some for limiting the intake of sugary drinks. In those with impaired glucose tolerance, diet and exercise either alone or in combination with metformin or acarbose may decrease the risk of developing diabetes. Lifestyle interventions are more effective than metformin. A 2017 review found that, long term, lifestyle changes decreased the risk by 28%, while medication does not reduce risk after withdrawal. While low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of diabetes, correcting the levels by supplementing vitamin D3 does not improve that risk.
Culturally appropriate education may help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels, for up to 24 months. If changes in lifestyle in those with mild diabetes has not resulted in improved blood sugars within six weeks, medications should then be considered. There is not enough evidence to determine if lifestyle interventions affect mortality in those who already have DM2.
Sugary breath isn’t as sweet as it seems. Diabetics often notice that they’ve developed sweet or nail-polish-like breath before they’re diagnosed. However, if you’re dealing with this strange symptom, time is of the essence. Sweet breath is often a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition in which your body can’t effectively convert glucose into energy, keeping your blood sugar at dangerous—potentially fatal—levels if untreated.
Endocrinology A chronic condition which affects ±10% of the general population, characterized by ↑ serum glucose and a relative or absolute ↓ in pancreatic insulin production, or ↓ tissue responsiveness to insulin; if not properly controlled, the excess glucose damages blood vessels of the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart Types Insulin dependent–type I and non-insulin dependent–type II diabetes Symptoms type 1 DM is associated with ↑ urine output, thirst, fatigue, and weight loss (despite an ↑ appetite), N&V; type 2 DM is associated with, in addition, non-healing ulcers, oral and bladder infections, blurred vision, paresthesias in the hands and feet, and itching Cardiovascular MI, stoke Eyes Retinal damage, blindness Legs/feet Nonhealing ulcers, cuts leading to gangrene and amputation Kidneys HTN, renal failure Neurology Paresthesias, neuropathy Diagnosis Serum glucose above cut-off points after meals or when fasting; once therapy is begun, serum levels of glycosylated Hb are measured periodically to assess adequacy of glucose control Management Therapy reflects type of DM; metformin and triglitazone have equal and additive effects on glycemic control Prognosis A function of stringency of glucose control and presence of complications. See ABCD Trial, Brittle diabetes, Bronze diabetes, Chemical diabetes, Gestational diabetes, Insulin-dependent diabetes, Metformin, MODY diabetes, Nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, Pseudodiabetes, Secondary diabetes, Starvation diabetes, Troglitazone.
According to the American Diabetes Association, a child has a 1 in 7 risk of getting type 2 diabetes if his/her parent was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before the age of 50, and a 1 in 13 risk of developing it if the parent was diagnosed after the age of 50. To see if you may be at risk for diabetes, consider taking this short and simple Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test from the ADA.
Learning about the disease and actively participating in the treatment is important, since complications are far less common and less severe in people who have well-managed blood sugar levels. The goal of treatment is an HbA1C level of 6.5%, but should not be lower than that, and may be set higher. Attention is also paid to other health problems that may accelerate the negative effects of diabetes. These include smoking, elevated cholesterol levels, obesity, high blood pressure, and lack of regular exercise. Specialized footwear is widely used to reduce the risk of ulceration, or re-ulceration, in at-risk diabetic feet. Evidence for the efficacy of this remains equivocal, however.
How does type 2 diabetes progress over time? Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease, meaning that the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar gets worse over time, despite careful management. Over time, the body’s cells become increasingly less responsive to insulin (increased insulin resistance) and beta cells in the pancreas produce less and less insulin (called beta-cell burnout). In fact, when people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they usually have already lost up to 50% or more of their beta cell function. As type 2 diabetes progresses, people typically need to add one or more different types of medications. The good news is that there are many more choices available for treatments, and a number of these medications don’t cause as much hypoglycemia, hunger and/or weight gain (e.g., metformin, pioglitazone, DPP-4 inhibitors, GLP-1 agonists, SGLT-2 inhibitors, and better insulin). Diligent management early on can help preserve remaining beta cell function and sometimes slow progression of the disease, although the need to use more and different types of medications does not mean that you have failed.
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.
Nerve damage (neuropathy). Excess sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish your nerves, especially in the legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward. Poorly controlled blood sugar can eventually cause you to lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs. Damage to the nerves that control digestion can cause problems with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. For men, erectile dysfunction may be an issue.
In this health topic, we discuss hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS), an extremely serious complication that can lead to diabetic coma and even death in type 2 diabetes. This serious condition occurs when the blood sugar gets too high and the body becomes severely dehydrated. To prevent HHNS and diabetic coma in type 2 diabetes, check your blood sugar regularly as recommended by your health care provider; check your blood sugar more frequently when you are sick, drink plenty of fluids, and watch for signs of dehydration.