“It’s not like you wake up one day and all of a sudden you’re thirsty, hungry, and [going to the bathroom] all the time,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a certified diabetes educator in Illinois and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It picks up gradually.” Indeed, “most people are unaware that they have diabetes in its early or even middle phases,” says Aaron Cypess, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and staff physician at Joslin Diabetes Center. Just because you’re not keyed in doesn’t mean you’re immune from problems associated with diabetes, he adds. The longer you go without controlling diabetes, the greater your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, amputation, blindness, and other serious complications. “We recommend that people with risk factors for diabetes, such as a family history or being overweight, get evaluated on a regular basis,” Dr. Cypess says. If you’ve been feeling off, talk to your doctor about getting a simple blood test that can diagnose the disease. And pay attention to these subtle signs and symptoms of diabetes.
Insulin is needed to allow glucose to pass from the blood into most of the body cells. Only the cells of the brain and central nervous system can use glucose from the blood in the absence of insulin. Without insulin, most body cells metabolize substances other than glucose for energy. However, fat metabolism in the absence of glucose metabolism, creates ketone bodies which are poisonous and their build up is associated with hyperglycemic coma. In the absence of sufficient insulin, unmetabolized glucose builds up in the blood. Water is drawn from body cells by osmosis to dilute the highly concentrated blood, and is then excreted along with much of the glucose, once the renal threshold for glucose (usually 10 mmol/L) is exceeded. Dehydration follows.
While there is a strong genetic component to developing this form of diabetes, there are other risk factors - the most significant of which is obesity. There is a direct relationship between the degree of obesity and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and this holds true in children as well as adults. It is estimated that the chance to develop diabetes doubles for every 20% increase over desirable body weight.
Classic symptoms of DM are polyuria, polydipsia, and weight loss. In addition, patients with hyperglycemia often have blurred vision, increased food consumption (polyphagia), and generalized weakness. When a patient with type 1 DM loses metabolic control (such as during infections or periods of noncompliance with therapy), symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis occur. These may include nausea, vomiting, dizziness on arising, intoxication, delirium, coma, or death. Chronic complications of hyperglycemia include retinopathy and blindness, peripheral and autonomic neuropathies, glomerulosclerosis of the kidneys (with proteinuria, nephrotic syndrome, or end-stage renal failure), coronary and peripheral vascular disease, and reduced resistance to infections. Patients with DM often also sustain infected ulcerations of the feet, which may result in osteomyelitis and the need for amputation.
Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes affects the way the body uses insulin. While the body still makes insulin, unlike in type I, the cells in the body do not respond to it as effectively as they once did. This is the most common type of diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and it has strong links with obesity.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can be caused by too much insulin, too little food (or eating too late to coincide with the action of the insulin), alcohol consumption, or increased exercise. A patient with symptoms of hypoglycemia may be hungry, cranky, confused, and tired. The patient may become sweaty and shaky. Left untreated, the patient can lose consciousness or have a seizure. This condition is sometimes called an insulin reaction and should be treated by giving the patient something sweet to eat or drink like a candy, sugar cubes, juice, or another high sugar snack.
Diabetes is among the leading causes of kidney failure, but its frequency varies between populations and is also related to the severity and duration of the disease. Several measures to slow down the progress of renal damage have been identified. They include control of high blood glucose, control of high blood pressure, intervention with medication in the early stage of kidney damage, and restriction of dietary protein. Screening and early detection of diabetic kidney disease are an important means of prevention.
Over recent decades, and particularly in the past five years, researchers have found dozens of genes with links to diabetes. The count stands at about 50 genes for type 1 and 38 for type 2. The numbers have risen quickly in recent years because of advances in the gene-sequencing technology used to conduct genome-wide association studies. This technique involves taking the genetic compositions of a group of people with a disease and comparing them en masse to the genomes of people who don't have the disease.
Then, once you do have an injury, uncontrolled diabetes can make it harder for your body to heal. “High blood sugars provide a good environment for bacteria to grow,” she says. That's because diabetes is also often accompanied by high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and the resulting plaque buildup can narrow blood vessels, reducing blood supply and leading to slow healing.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
History of diabetes: Past treatments and new discoveries Diabetes has been known for at least 2,000 years. Over the years, treatments have included exercise, riding on horseback, drinking wine, consuming milk or rice, opium, and overfeeding. It was not until 1921 that insulin was introduced as a treatment. Science has progressed, but diabetes remains a major health problem. Read now
A population-based, nationwide cohort study in Finland examined the short -and long-term time trends in mortality among patients with early-onset and late-onset type 1 diabetes. The results suggest that in those with early-onset type 1 diabetes (age 0-14 y), survival has improved over time. Survival of those with late-onset type 1 diabetes (15-29 y) has deteriorated since the 1980s, and the ratio of deaths caused by acute complications has increased in this group. Overall, alcohol was noted as an important cause of death in patients with type 1 diabetes; women had higher standardized mortality ratios than did men in both groups. 
Findings from the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) and the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) have clearly shown that aggressive and intensive control of elevated levels of blood sugar in patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes decreases the complications of nephropathy, neuropathy, retinopathy, and may reduce the occurrence and severity of large blood vessel diseases. Aggressive control with intensive therapy means achieving fasting glucose levels between 70-120 mg/dl; glucose levels of less than 160 mg/dl after meals; and a near normal hemoglobin A1c levels (see below).
High blood sugar (hyperglycemia). Your blood sugar level can rise for many reasons, including eating too much, being sick or not taking enough glucose-lowering medication. Check your blood sugar level often, and watch for signs and symptoms of high blood sugar — frequent urination, increased thirst, dry mouth, blurred vision, fatigue and nausea. If you have hyperglycemia, you'll need to adjust your meal plan, medications or both.
How to prevent type 2 diabetes: Six useful steps What are the risks factors for developing type 2 diabetes, and how can we prevent it? Some factors such as blood sugar levels, body weight, fiber intake, and stress can be controlled to some extent, but others, such as age and family history cannot. Find out more about reducing the risk of developing this condition. Read now
There is evidence that certain emotions can promote type 2 diabetes. A recent study found that depression seems to predispose people to diabetes. Other research has tied emotional stress to diabetes, though the link hasn't been proved. Researchers speculate that the emotional connection may have to do with the hormone cortisol, which floods the body during periods of stress. Cortisol sends glucose to the blood, where it can fuel a fight-or-flight response, but overuse of this system may lead to dysfunction.
The problem with sugar, regardless of type, is the sheer amount of it that’s found in the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is the typical eating plan many people in the United States — as well as those in an increasing number of modernized countries — have developed a taste for. When consumed in excess, foods in this category can lead to heart disease, stroke, and other serious health issues. “Often, foods with added sugar also contain fat,” explains Grieger, noting that these components go hand in hand when it comes to the risk for insulin resistance, the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
Low glycemic index foods also may be helpful. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food causes a rise in your blood sugar. Foods with a high glycemic index raise your blood sugar quickly. Low glycemic index foods may help you achieve a more stable blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic index typically are foods that are higher in fiber.
Diabetes is a serious and costly disease which is becoming increasingly common, especially in developing countries and disadvantaged minorities. However, there are ways of preventing it and/or controlling its progress. Public and professional awareness of the risk factors for, and symptoms of diabetes are an important step towards its prevention and control.
People with full-blown type 2 diabetes are not able to use the hormone insulin properly, and have what’s called insulin resistance. Insulin is necessary for glucose, or sugar, to get from your blood into your cells to be used for energy. When there is not enough insulin — or when the hormone doesn’t function as it should — glucose accumulates in the blood instead of being used by the cells. This sugar accumulation may lead to the aforementioned complications.