Before you find yourself shocked by a diabetes diagnosis, make sure you know these 20 diabetes signs you shouldn’t ignore. If you identify with any of these warning signs on the list, be sure to visit your doctor ASAP to get your blood sugar tested. And if you want to reduce your risk of becoming diabetic in the first place, start with the 40 Tips That Double Weight Loss!
Patients with type 1 diabetes require life-long treatment with exogenous (artificial) insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels. This insulin may be given through the use of a hypodermic needle (seen right), or other methods such as the use of an insulin pump. Over time, many patients suffer chronic complications: vascular, neurological and organ-specific (such as kidney and eye disease). The frequency and severity of these complications is related to duration that the patient has suffered the disease for, and by how well their blood sugar levels have been controlled. If blood sugar levels, blood pressure and lipids are tightly controlled, many complications of diabetes may be prevented. Some patients may develop the major emergency complication of diabetes, known as ketoacidosis (extremely high blood glucose levels accompanied with extremely low insulin levels), which has a mortality rate of 5-10%.
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is more common than type 1 diabetes with about 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes having T2D. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the US population have diabetes.1 More alarming, an estimated 84 million more American adults have prediabetes, which if not treated, will advance to diabetes within five years.1
Because type 2 diabetes is linked to high levels of sugar in the blood, it may seem logical to assume that eating too much sugar is the cause of the disease. But of course, it’s not that simple. “This has been around for years, this idea that eating too much sugar causes diabetes — but the truth is, type 2 diabetes is a multifactorial disease with many different types of causes,” says Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, a nutrition coach in Prescott, Arizona, and a medical reviewer for Everyday Health. “Type 2 diabetes is really complex.”
Home blood glucose self-monitoring is indispensable in helping patients to adjust daily insulin doses according to test results and to achieve optimal long-term control of diabetes. Insulin or other hypoglycemic agents are administered as prescribed, and their action and use explained to the patient. With help from a dietitian, a diet is planned based on the recommended amount of calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The amount of carbohydrates consumed is a dietary key to managing glycemic control in diabetes. For most men, 60 to 75 carbohydrate g per meal are a reasonable intake; for most women, 45 to 60 g are appropriate. Saturated fats should be limited to less than 7% of total caloric intake, and trans-fatty acids (unsaturated fats with hydrogen added) minimized. A steady, consistent level of daily exercise is prescribed, and participation in a supervised exercise program is recommended.
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) resembles type 2 DM in several respects, involving a combination of relatively inadequate insulin secretion and responsiveness. It occurs in about 2–10% of all pregnancies and may improve or disappear after delivery. However, after pregnancy approximately 5–10% of women with GDM are found to have DM, most commonly type 2. GDM is fully treatable, but requires careful medical supervision throughout the pregnancy. Management may include dietary changes, blood glucose monitoring, and in some cases, insulin may be required.
As of 2015, an estimated 415 million people had diabetes worldwide, with type 2 DM making up about 90% of the cases. This represents 8.3% of the adult population, with equal rates in both women and men. As of 2014, trends suggested the rate would continue to rise. Diabetes at least doubles a person's risk of early death. From 2012 to 2015, approximately 1.5 to 5.0 million deaths each year resulted from diabetes. The global economic cost of diabetes in 2014 was estimated to be US$612 billion. In the United States, diabetes cost $245 billion in 2012.
Metformin (Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Glumetza, Fortamet, Riomet) belongs to a class of drugs called biguanides. Metformin is first-line therapy for most type 2 diabetics. It works to stop the liver from making excess glucose, and has a low risk of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, or very low blood sugar can cause symptoms such as sweating, nervousness, heart palpitations, weakness, intense hunger, trembling, and problems speaking. Many patients lose some weight taking metformin, which is also helpful for blood sugar control.
Insulin Therapy. Exogenous insulin is given to patients with diabetes mellitus as a supplement to the insufficient amount of endogenous insulin that they produce. In some cases, this must make up for an absolute lack of insulin from the pancreas. Exogenous insulin is available in various types. It must be given by injection, usually subcutaneously, and because it is a potent drug, the dosage must be measured meticulously. Commonly, regular insulin, which is a fast-acting insulin with a short span of action, is mixed with one of the longer-acting insulins and both types are administered in one injection.
Diabetes mellitus type 2 (also known as type 2 diabetes) is a long-term metabolic disorder that is characterized by high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and relative lack of insulin. Common symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, and unexplained weight loss. Symptoms may also include increased hunger, feeling tired, and sores that do not heal. Often symptoms come on slowly. Long-term complications from high blood sugar include heart disease, strokes, diabetic retinopathy which can result in blindness, kidney failure, and poor blood flow in the limbs which may lead to amputations. The sudden onset of hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state may occur; however, ketoacidosis is uncommon.
When the blood glucose level rises above 160 to 180 mg/dL, glucose spills into the urine. When the level of glucose in the urine rises even higher, the kidneys excrete additional water to dilute the large amount of glucose. Because the kidneys produce excessive urine, people with diabetes urinate large volumes frequently (polyuria). The excessive urination creates abnormal thirst (polydipsia). Because excessive calories are lost in the urine, people may lose weight. To compensate, people often feel excessively hungry.
In type 1 diabetes (formerly called insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile-onset diabetes), the body's immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, and more than 90% of them are permanently destroyed. The pancreas, therefore, produces little or no insulin. Only about 5 to 10% of all people with diabetes have type 1 disease. Most people who have type 1 diabetes develop the disease before age 30, although it can develop later in life.
In people with type 1 diabetes, the symptoms often begin abruptly and dramatically. A serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication in which the body produces excess acid, may quickly develop. In addition to the usual diabetes symptoms of excessive thirst and urination, the initial symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis also include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and—particularly in children—abdominal pain. Breathing tends to become deep and rapid as the body attempts to correct the blood’s acidity (see Acidosis), and the breath smells fruity and like nail polish remover. Without treatment, diabetic ketoacidosis can progress to coma and death, sometimes very quickly.
If you are a diabetic and are pregnant you can have a normal, healthy pregnancy, but you need to take extra steps to avoid gaining excess weight and high blood sugars. Lifestyle habits (eating primarily vegetables and lean protein and exercising every day) will prevent problems during pregnancy. If you are a diabetic and become pregnant, monitor your blood sugar levels often. Talk with your doctor about exploring additional health care professionals, for example, a nutritionist, health coach, or naturopathic doctor about a healthy eating plan. If your blood sugar gets out of control you may:
How to use basal insulin: Benefits, types, and dosage Basal, or background, insulin helps regulate blood sugar levels in people diagnosed with diabetes. It keeps glucose levels steady throughout the day and night. It is taken as injections, once a day or more often. The type of insulin and number of daily injections varies. Find out more about the options available. Read now
Sources of complex carbohydrates include whole-wheat bread and brown rice, legumes like black beans, and quinoa. These foods contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are appropriate for any eating plan, regardless of whether you have prediabetes, have diabetes, or are perfectly healthy. In fact, experts know including complex carbs in your daily diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, among other health benefits.
Diabetes develops when the body can't make any or enough insulin, and/or when it can't properly use the insulin it makes. For some people with diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin. In these cases, insulin is still produced, but the body does not respond to the effects of insulin as it should. This is called insulin resistance. Whether from not enough insulin or the inability to use insulin properly, the result is high levels of glucose in the blood, or hyperglycemia.
If you are symptomatic (e.g., increased thirst or urination, unexplained weight loss), your doctor may only use a single test to diagnose diabetes/prediabetes. If you don't have any symptoms, one high blood glucose test doesn't necessarily mean you have diabetes/prediabetes. Your doctor will repeat one of the blood tests again on another day (generally 1 week later) to confirm the diagnosis.
There is no single gene that “causes” type 1 diabetes. Instead, there are a large number of inherited factors that may increase an individual’s likelihood of developing diabetes. This is known as multifactorial inheritance. The genes implicated in the development of type 1 diabetes mellitus control the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system. This system is involved in the complex process of identifying cells which are a normal part of the body, and distinguishing them from foreign cells, such as those of bacteria or viruses. In an autoimmune disease such as diabetes mellitus, this system makes a mistake in identifying the normal ‘self’ cells as ‘foreign’, and attacks the body.
The most common test used to diagnose diabetes is the fasting blood glucose. This test measures the glucose levels at a specific moment in time (normal is 80-110 mg/dl). In managing diabetes, the goal is to normalize blood glucose levels. It is generally accepted that by maintaining normalized blood glucose levels, one may delay or even prevent some of the complications associated with diabetes. Measures to manage diabetes include behavioral modification (proper diet, exercise) and drug therapies (oral hypoglycemics, insulin replacement). The choice of therapy prescribed takes into consideration the type and severity of the disease present and patient compliance. The physician may request the patient keep a log of their daily blood glucose measurements, in an effort to better assess therapeutic success. Another commonly obtained test is the hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), which is a surrogate marker used to assess blood glucose levels over an extended period (2-3 months). This test provides the physician with a good picture of the patient’s glucose levels over time.
The United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) was a clinical study conducted by Z that was published in The Lancet in 1998. Around 3,800 people with type 2 diabetes were followed for an average of ten years, and were treated with tight glucose control or the standard of care, and again the treatment arm had far better outcomes. This confirmed the importance of tight glucose control, as well as blood pressure control, for people with this condition.
Diet management is very important in people with both types of diabetes mellitus. Doctors recommend a healthy, balanced diet and efforts to maintain a healthy weight. People with diabetes can benefit from meeting with a dietitian or a diabetes educator to develop an optimal eating plan. Such a plan includes avoiding simple sugars and processed foods, increasing dietary fiber, limiting portions of carbohydrate-rich, and fatty foods (especially saturated fats). People who are taking insulin should avoid long periods between meals to prevent hypoglycemia. Although protein and fat in the diet contribute to the number of calories a person eats, only the number of carbohydrates has a direct effect on blood glucose levels. The American Diabetes Association has many helpful tips on diet, including recipes. Even when people follow a proper diet, cholesterol-lowering drugs are needed to decrease the risk of heart disease (see recommendations).
Diagnosis. The most common diagnostic tests for diabetes are chemical analyses of the blood such as the fasting plasma glucose. Capillary blood glucose monitoring can be used for screening large segments of the population. Portable equipment is available and only one drop of blood from the fingertip or earlobe is necessary. Capillary blood glucose levels have largely replaced analysis of the urine for glucose. Testing for urinary glucose can be problematic as the patient may have a high renal threshold, which would lead to a negative reading for urinary glucose when in fact the blood glucose level was high.
The treatment of low blood sugar consists of administering a quickly absorbed glucose source. These include glucose containing drinks, such as orange juice, soft drinks (not sugar-free), or glucose tablets in doses of 15-20 grams at a time (for example, the equivalent of half a glass of juice). Even cake frosting applied inside the cheeks can work in a pinch if patient cooperation is difficult. If the individual becomes unconscious, glucagon can be given by intramuscular injection.
The food that people eat provides the body with glucose, which is used by the cells as a source of energy. If insulin isn't available or doesn't work correctly to move glucose from the blood into cells, glucose will stay in the blood. High blood glucose levels are toxic, and cells that don't get glucose are lacking the fuel they need to function properly.
In the sunshine, molecules in the skin are converted to vitamin D. But people stay indoors more these days, which could lead to vitamin D deficiency. Research shows that if mice are deprived of vitamin D, they are more likely to become diabetic. In people, observational studies have also found a correlation between D deficiency and type 1. "If you don't have enough D, then [your immune system] doesn't function like it should," says Chantal Mathieu, MD, PhD, a professor of experimental medicine and endocrinology at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. "Vitamin D is not the cause of type 1 diabetes. [But] if you already have a risk, you don't want to have vitamin D deficiency on board because that's going to be one of the little pushes that pushes you in the wrong direction."
In Japan, China, and other Asian countries, the transition from traditional carbohydrate-rich (e.g., rice-based) diets to lower-carbohydrate Westernized eating habits emphasizing meats, dairy products, and fried foods has been accompanied by a major increase in diabetes prevalence. Similarly, in the United States, a meat-based (omnivorous) diet is associated with a high prevalence of diabetes, compared with dietary patterns emphasizing plant-derived foods. In the Adventist Health Study-2, after adjusting for differences in body weight, physical activity, and other factors, an omnivorous diet was associated with roughly double the risk of diabetes, compared with a diet omitting animal products.5
It has become fashionable in recent years to blame sugar for many health problems. However, per capita sugar consumption has actually been falling in the United States since 1999, when bottled water and sugar-free beverages began to edge sodas off the shelf. At the same time, consumption of cheese and oily foods has steadily increased, as has diabetes prevalence. This suggests that something other than sugar is driving the diabetes epidemic.
Patients who suffer from diabetes have a lifelong struggle to attain and maintain blood glucose levels as close to the normal range as possible. With appropriate blood sugar control, the risk of both microvascular (small blood vessel) and neuropathic (nerve) complications is decreased markedly. Additionally, if hypertension (high blood pressure) and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) are treated promptly and aggressively, the risk of cardiovascular complications should decrease as well.
Type 1 diabetes in pediatric patients has been linked to changes in cognition and brain structure, with a study by Siller et al finding lower volume in the left temporal-parietal-occipital cortex in young patients with type 1 diabetes than in controls. The study also indicated that in pediatric patients, higher severity of type 1 diabetes presentation correlates with greater structural differences in the brain at about 3 months following diagnosis. The investigators found that among study patients with type 1 diabetes, an association existed between the presence of diabetic ketoacidosis at presentation and reduced radial, axial, and mean diffusivity in the major white matter tracts on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In those with higher glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels, hippocampal, thalamic, and cerebellar white matter volumes were lower, as was right posterior parietal cortical thickness, while right occipital cortical thickness was greater. Patients in the study were aged 7-17 years. 
Individuals with diabetes have two times the likelihood of getting a urinary tract infection compared to individuals without the disease. If you find yourself getting up every couple of hours in the middle of the night, and you seem to be expelling a lot more urine than you used to, talk to your doctor and find out whether or not you have diabetes.
Research has shown that there are some ways of preventing type 2 diabetes, or at least delaying its onset. Lifestyle changes such as becoming more active (or staying active, if you already engage in regular physical activity) and making sure your weight stays in a healthy range are two ways to help ward off type 2 diabetes, but talk to your doctor about what else you can do to prevent or manage the disease.
Type 1 diabetes is partly inherited, with multiple genes, including certain HLA genotypes, known to influence the risk of diabetes. In genetically susceptible people, the onset of diabetes can be triggered by one or more environmental factors, such as a viral infection or diet. Several viruses have been implicated, but to date there is no stringent evidence to support this hypothesis in humans. Among dietary factors, data suggest that gliadin (a protein present in gluten) may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes, but the mechanism is not fully understood.
If you find that you are a little rusty and could use a refresher course in nutrition or anything else related to diabetes, consider signing up for a diabetes conversation map class. These classes are a good way to re-learn key components of diabetes in a group setting. If you have adequate knowledge and are instead looking for ways to make your life easier, check out some apps, nutrition resources, or fitness trackers that can help you stay moving and cook healthy meals. Keeping up the good work is worth it, as it can help prevent complications.
That said, some research does suggest that eating too many sweetened foods can affect type 2 diabetes risk, and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that 30.3 million Americans have the disease — and that millions of more individuals are projected to develop it, too — understanding all the risk factors for the disease, including sugar consumption, is essential to help reverse the diabetes epidemic.
A 2018 study suggested that three types should be abandoned as too simplistic. It classified diabetes into five subgroups, with what is typically described as type 1 and autoimmune late-onset diabetes categorized as one group, whereas type 2 encompasses four categories. This is hoped to improve diabetes treatment by tailoring it more specifically to the subgroups.
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.
When diabetes occurs in women during pregnancy, it is called gestational diabetes. It usually is diagnosed between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. Like in type 1 and type 2 diabetes, blood sugar levels become too high. When women are pregnant, more glucose is needed to nourish the developing baby. The body needs more insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. In some women, the body does not produce enough insulin to meet this need, and blood sugar levels rise, resulting in gestational diabetes.