In the United States alone, more than 8 million people have undiagnosed diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. But you don't need to become a statistic. Understanding possible diabetes symptoms can lead to early diagnosis and treatment — and a lifetime of better health. If you're experiencing any of the following diabetes signs and symptoms, see your doctor.
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.
Along with following your diabetes care plan, you may need diabetes medicines, which may include pills or medicines you inject under your skin, such as insulin. Over time, you may need more than one diabetes medicine to manage your blood glucose. Even if you don’t take insulin, you may need it at special times, such as during pregnancy or if you are in the hospital. You also may need medicines for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other conditions.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus has wide geographic variation in incidence and prevalence.  Annual incidence varies from 0.61 cases per 100,000 population in China to 41.4 cases per 100,000 population in Finland. Substantial variations are observed between nearby countries with differing lifestyles, such as Estonia and Finland, and between genetically similar populations, such as those in Iceland and Norway.
The pain of diabetic nerve damage may respond to traditional treatments with certain medications such as gabapentin (Neurontin), phenytoin (Dilantin), and carbamazepine (Tegretol) that are traditionally used in the treatment of seizure disorders. Amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep) and desipramine (Norpraminine) are medications that are traditionally used for depression. While many of these medications are not indicated specifically for the treatment of diabetes related nerve pain, they are used by physicians commonly.
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.
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease for which there is treatment but no known cure. Treatment is aimed at keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible. This is achieved with a combination of diet, exercise and insulin or oral medication. People with type 1 diabetes need to be hospitalized right after they are diagnosed to get their glucose levels down to an acceptable level.
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The signs and symptoms of diabetes are disregarded by many because of the chronic progression of the disease. People do not consider this as a serious problem because unlike many other diseases the consequences of hyperglycaemia are not manifested immediately. People are not aware that damage can start several years before symptoms become noticeable. This is unfortunate because recognition of early symptoms can help to get the disease under control immediately and to prevent vascular complications.
Different environmental effects on type 1 diabetes mellitus development complicate the influence of race, but racial differences are evident. Whites have the highest reported incidence, whereas Chinese individuals have the lowest. Type 1 diabetes mellitus is 1.5 times more likely to develop in American whites than in American blacks or Hispanics. Current evidence suggests that when immigrants from an area with low incidence move to an area with higher incidence, their rates of type 1 diabetes mellitus tend to increase toward the higher level.
Recently, battery-operated insulin pumps have been developed that can be programmed to mimic normal insulin secretion more closely. A person wearing an insulin pump still must monitor blood sugar several times a day and adjust the dosage, and not all diabetic patients are motivated or suited to such vigilance. It is hoped that in the future an implantable or external pump system may be perfected, containing a glucose sensor. In response to data from the sensor the pump will automatically deliver insulin according to changing levels of blood glucose.
As of 2016, 422 million people have diabetes worldwide, up from an estimated 382 million people in 2013 and from 108 million in 1980. Accounting for the shifting age structure of the global population, the prevalence of diabetes is 8.5% among adults, nearly double the rate of 4.7% in 1980. Type 2 makes up about 90% of the cases. Some data indicate rates are roughly equal in women and men, but male excess in diabetes has been found in many populations with higher type 2 incidence, possibly due to sex-related differences in insulin sensitivity, consequences of obesity and regional body fat deposition, and other contributing factors such as high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, and alcohol intake.
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The prognosis of diabetes is related to the extent to which the condition is kept under control to prevent the development of the complications described in the preceding sections. Some of the more serious complications of diabetes such as kidney failure and cardiovascular disease, can be life-threatening. Acute complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis can also be life-threatening. As mentioned above, aggressive control of blood sugar levels can prevent or delay the onset of complications, and many people with diabetes lead long and full lives.
The WHO estimates that diabetes mellitus resulted in 1.5 million deaths in 2012, making it the 8th leading cause of death. However another 2.2 million deaths worldwide were attributable to high blood glucose and the increased risks of cardiovascular disease and other associated complications (e.g. kidney failure), which often lead to premature death and are often listed as the underlying cause on death certificates rather than diabetes. For example, in 2014, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimated that diabetes resulted in 4.9 million deaths worldwide, using modeling to estimate the total number of deaths that could be directly or indirectly attributed to diabetes.
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.
People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce any insulin at all. People with type 2 diabetes still produce insulin, however, the cells in the muscles, liver and fat tissue are inefficient at absorbing the insulin and cannot regulate glucose well. As a result, the body tries to compensate by having the pancreas pump out more insulin. But the pancreas slowly loses the ability to produce enough insulin, and as a result, the cells don’t get the energy they need to function properly.
2. Home glucose monitoring using either a visually read test or a digital readout of the glucose concentration in a drop of blood. Patients can usually learn to use the necessary equipment and perform finger sticks. They keep a daily record of findings and are taught to adjust insulin dosage accordingly. More recent glucose monitoring devices can draw blood from other locations on the body, such as the forearm.
Our bodies break down the foods we eat into glucose and other nutrients we need, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream from the gastrointestinal tract. The glucose level in the blood rises after a meal and triggers the pancreas to make the hormone insulin and release it into the bloodstream. But in people with diabetes, the body either can't make or can't respond to insulin properly.
Alternatively, if you hit it really hard for 20 minutes or so, you may never enter the fat burning phase of exercise. Consequently, your body becomes more efficient at storing sugar (in the form of glycogen) in your liver and muscles, where it is needed, as glycogen is the muscles’ primary fuel source. If your body is efficient at storing and using of glycogen, it means that it is not storing fat.
Insulin is vital to patients with type 1 diabetes - they cannot live without a source of exogenous insulin. Without insulin, patients with type 1 diabetes develop severely elevated blood sugar levels. This leads to increased urine glucose, which in turn leads to excessive loss of fluid and electrolytes in the urine. Lack of insulin also causes the inability to store fat and protein along with breakdown of existing fat and protein stores. This dysregulation, results in the process of ketosis and the release of ketones into the blood. Ketones turn the blood acidic, a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Without prompt medical treatment, patients with diabetic ketoacidosis can rapidly go into shock, coma, and even death may result.
Exercise is very important if you have this health condition. Exercise makes cells more insulin sensitive, pulling glucose out of the blood. This brings down blood sugar, and more importantly, gives you better energy because the glucose is being transferred to the cells. Any type of exercise will do this, but extra benefit is gained when the activity helps build muscle, such as weight training or using resistance bands. The benefits of exercise on blood sugar last about 48-72 hours, so it is important for you to be physically active almost every day.
People with these risk factors should be screened for diabetes at least once every three years. Diabetes risk can be estimated using online risk calculators. Doctors may measure fasting blood glucose levels and hemoglobin A1C level, or do an oral glucose tolerance test. If the test results are on the border between normal and abnormal, doctors do the screening tests more often, at least once a year.
The major eye complication of diabetes is called diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy occurs in patients who have had diabetes for at least five years. Diseased small blood vessels in the back of the eye cause the leakage of protein and blood in the retina. Disease in these blood vessels also causes the formation of small aneurysms (microaneurysms), and new but brittle blood vessels (neovascularization). Spontaneous bleeding from the new and brittle blood vessels can lead to retinal scarring and retinal detachment, thus impairing vision.
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When you have type 2 diabetes, your cells don't get enough glucose, which may cause you to lose weight. Also, if you are urinating more frequently because of uncontrolled diabetes, you may lose more calories and water, resulting in weight loss, says Daniel Einhorn, MD, medical director of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California in San Diego.