Those dark patches on your skin could be more serious than a blotchy tan. In fact, they might be the first sign of diabetes. This darkening of the skin, which usually occurs on the hands and feet, in folds of skin, along the neck, and in a person’s groin and armpits, called acanthosis nigricans, often occurs when insulin levels are high. The high insulin levels in your blood can increase your body’s production of skin cells, many of which have increased pigmentation, giving skin a darkened appearance.
The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) was a clinical study conducted by the United States National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993. Test subjects all had diabetes mellitus type 1 and were randomized to a tight glycemic arm and a control arm with the standard of care at the time; people were followed for an average of seven years, and people in the treatment had dramatically lower rates of diabetic complications. It was as a landmark study at the time, and significantly changed the management of all forms of diabetes.[86][130][131]
One particular type of sugar that has attracted a lot of negative attention is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) — and for good reason, as multiple studies suggest HFCS can influence diabetes risk. Some research in people who are overweight and obese, for example, suggests regularly consuming drinks sweetened with either fructose, a byproduct of HFCS, or glucose can lead to weight gain, and drinks with fructose in particular may reduce insulin sensitivity and spike blood sugar levels.
^ Jump up to: a b Picot J, Jones J, Colquitt JL, Gospodarevskaya E, Loveman E, Baxter L, Clegg AJ (September 2009). "The clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of bariatric (weight loss) surgery for obesity: a systematic review and economic evaluation". Health Technology Assessment. 13 (41): 1–190, 215–357, iii–iv. doi:10.3310/hta13410. PMID 19726018.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system, the body’s system for fighting infection, attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Scientists think type 1 diabetes is caused by genes and environmental factors, such as viruses, that might trigger the disease. Studies such as TrialNet are working to pinpoint causes of type 1 diabetes and possible ways to prevent or slow the disease.
The ADA recommends using patient age as one consideration in the establishment of glycemic goals, with different targets for preprandial, bedtime/overnight, and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels in patients aged 0-6, 6-12, and 13-19 years. [4] Benefits of tight glycemic control include not only continued reductions in the rates of microvascular complications but also significant differences in cardiovascular events and overall mortality.
Although the signs of diabetes can begin to show early, sometimes it takes a person a while to recognize the symptoms. This often makes it seem like signs and symptoms of diabetes appear suddenly. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your body, rather than simply brushing them off. To that end, here are some type 1 and type 2 diabetes symptoms that you may want to watch out for:

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.


A second theory, dubbed the hygiene hypothesis, blames the rise of type 1 on a society that's too clean. Good housekeeping and hygiene habits mean far fewer interactions with germs, which in turn may foster an immune system prone to going awry. "In a developing country, you have more infectious disease. This is associated with a lower risk of type 1 diabetes," says Li Wen, MD, PhD, an immunologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. In her lab, rodents raised in hyper-clean environments are more likely to get type 1 than those reared in dirtier cages.

Type 2 diabetes mellitus (non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus [NIDDM]) is a heterogeneous disorder. Most patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus have insulin resistance, and their beta cells lack the ability to overcome this resistance. [6] Although this form of diabetes was previously uncommon in children, in some countries, 20% or more of new patients with diabetes in childhood and adolescence have type 2 diabetes mellitus, a change associated with increased rates of obesity. Other patients may have inherited disorders of insulin release, leading to maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) or congenital diabetes. [7, 8, 9] This topic addresses only type 1 diabetes mellitus. (See Etiology and Epidemiology.)
Prevention and treatment involve maintaining a healthy diet, regular physical exercise, a normal body weight, and avoiding use of tobacco.[2] Control of blood pressure and maintaining proper foot care are important for people with the disease.[2] Type 1 DM must be managed with insulin injections.[2] Type 2 DM may be treated with medications with or without insulin.[9] Insulin and some oral medications can cause low blood sugar.[13] Weight loss surgery in those with obesity is sometimes an effective measure in those with type 2 DM.[14] Gestational diabetes usually resolves after the birth of the baby.[15]

Family or personal history. Your risk increases if you have prediabetes — a precursor to type 2 diabetes — or if a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, has type 2 diabetes. You're also at greater risk if you had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy, if you delivered a very large baby or if you had an unexplained stillbirth.


The body’s immune system is responsible for fighting off foreign invaders, like harmful viruses and bacteria. In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakes the body’s own healthy cells for foreign invaders. The immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. After these beta cells are destroyed, the body is unable to produce insulin.

Your doctor will carefully examine you at each visit for diabetes. In particular they will examine your cardiovascular system, eyes and neurological systems to detect any complications present. In the acute phase you may appear wasted and dehydrated. You may have difficulty breathing and have a sweet smell to your breath. In the later stages, your doctor will check your pulse, listen to your heart, measure your blood pressure (often lying and standing) and examine your limbs to detect any loss of sensation or ulcers.
Diabetes can be hard enough as it is, so do what you can to make life with it less complicated. For example, you don't have to be a master chef to put together a healthy meal. You can use ingredients that are right in your home. If you find your medication regimen to be too complex or too expensive, request that your physician change it. If you continue to forget to take your medicines, find simple ways to help you take them, like setting a reminder on your cell phone.

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.

Type 2 diabetes is due to insufficient insulin production from beta cells in the setting of insulin resistance.[13] Insulin resistance, which is the inability of cells to respond adequately to normal levels of insulin, occurs primarily within the muscles, liver, and fat tissue.[44] In the liver, insulin normally suppresses glucose release. However, in the setting of insulin resistance, the liver inappropriately releases glucose into the blood.[10] The proportion of insulin resistance versus beta cell dysfunction differs among individuals, with some having primarily insulin resistance and only a minor defect in insulin secretion and others with slight insulin resistance and primarily a lack of insulin secretion.[13]
Your risk for Type 2 diabetes increases as you get older. It also increases if you smoke. Although smoking doesn't cause diabetes per se, the negative effects on your health are enough to make it more likely that Type 2 diabetes will occur if you have the other risk factors. "We try to be aggressive with smoking cessation, in particular in patients with diabetes," says Dr. Asha M. Thomas, an endocrinologist with Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.
Being overweight is a risk factor for developing diabetes, but other risk factors such as how much physical activity you get, family history, ethnicity, and age also play a role. Unfortunately, many people think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes, but many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.

Incidence and Prevalence. It has been estimated that slightly over 6 per cent of the population is affected by some form of diabetes, or 17 million people in the USA and 1.2 to 1.4 million in Canada; many of these individuals are not diagnosed. Diabetes is ranked third as a cause of death, although the life span of patients with diabetes has increased due to improved methods of detection and better management. There is no cure for diabetes at the present time, but enormous strides have been made in the control of the disease. The patient must understand the importance of compliance with the entire treatment plan, including diet, exercise, and in some cases medication. The patient with diabetes is at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, renal failure, neuropathies, and diabetic retinopathy. Research studies such as the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial have indicated that tight control of blood glucose levels resulted in the delay or prevention of retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy.
Infections. Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to a variety of tissue infections. The most commonly encountered is a yeast infection (Candida) and the presence of dry mouth further increases one’s risk (see PATIENT INFORMATION SHEET – Oral Yeast Infections). Typically, affected areas appear redder than the surrounding tissue and commonly affected sites include the tongue, palate, cheeks, gums, or corners of the mouth (see Right). There is conflicting data regarding cavity risk in the diabetic patient, but those who have dry mouth are clearly at increased risk for developing cavities.
Diabetes mellitus results mainly from a deficiency or diminished effectiveness of insulin that is normally produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. It is characterised by high blood sugar, altered sugar and glucose metabolism and this affects blood vessels and causes several organ damage. Causes of diabetes can be classified according to the types of diabetes.
Being overweight is a risk factor for developing diabetes, but other risk factors such as how much physical activity you get, family history, ethnicity, and age also play a role. Unfortunately, many people think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes, but many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.
Patient Education. Successful management of diabetes requires that the patient actively participate in and be committed to the regimen of care. The problem of poor control can cause serious or even deadly short-term and long-term complications, with devastating effects on the patient's longevity and sense of well being. There are many teaching aids available to help persons with diabetes understand their disease and comply with prescribed therapy. In general, a patient education program should include the following components:

Hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c is a protein on the surface of red blood cells. The HbA1c test is used to monitor blood sugar levels in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes over time. Normal HbA1c levels are 6% or less. HbA1c levels can be affected by insulin use, fasting, glucose intake (oral or IV), or a combination of these and other factors. High hemoglobin A1c levels in the blood increases the risk of microvascular complications, for example, diabetic neuropathy, eye, and kidney disease.
Cataracts and glaucoma are also more common among diabetics. It is also important to note that since the lens of the eye lets water through, if blood sugar concentrations vary a lot, the lens of the eye will shrink and swell with fluid accordingly. As a result, blurry vision is very common in poorly controlled diabetes. Patients are usually discouraged from getting a new eyeglass prescription until their blood sugar is controlled. This allows for a more accurate assessment of what kind of glasses prescription is required.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
×