This is another article that I wrote when the Free Fitness Tips Blog was just getting started. However, after reviewing it I have decided it is due for a significant rewrite. So here is the new and improved version of ‘The Symptoms of Diabetes’…
As I have discussed in my previous diabetes articles the symptoms of diabetes are often quite difficult to notice. However, if you know what to look for you have a much greater chance of identifying the symptoms. In this article I am going to discuss with you the major symptoms of diabetes and explain why they occur.
1) HYPERGLYCAEMIA (High Blood Sugar/Glucose):- Hyperglycaemia occurs when your blood sugar (the body’s main source of energy) levels become higher than normal, usually due to a lack of insulin. Insulin helps the body convert blood sugar into energy. If the body is not getting enough insulin this blood sugar cannot be broken down and instead stays in the blood stream, causing blood sugar levels to rise.
Hyperglycaemia can also be caused by eating too many sugars and carbohydrates (which release extra glucose into your blood stream), failing to exercise (which can reduce the effectiveness of insulin) and by being physically or mentally stressed (which can lead to the body producing extra glucose).
Blood sugar levels are said to reach hyperglycaemic levels when they are consistently above 126 milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL). When your blood sugar reaches hyperglycaemic levels the following symptoms may develop:
- Blurred Vision.
- Increased Hunger Levels.
- Increased Need to Urinate.
- Increased Susceptibility to Infection.
- Increased Thirst Levels.
- Weight Loss.
Hyperglycaemia can affect all diabetics and can be managed in two ways, depending upon the severity of the condition. Mild hyperglycaemia can usually be self treated by injecting insulin. More serious hyperglycaemia can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmotic non-ketotic acidosis (HONK) (see below for further details) for which you will need urgent hospital treatment.
2) HYPOGLYCAEMIA (Low Blood Sugar/Glucose):- Hypoglycaemia occurs when your blood glucose levels drop to lower than normal levels, usually because there is excessive insulin in your body. The presence of this extra insulin means that too much glucose is converted into energy and as a result your blood sugar levels start to decline.
Hypoglycaemia can also be caused by not consuming enough calories to meet the body’s energy requirements, either on a day to day basis or before exercise (your body burns extra calories during exercise so you need to make sure these additional calories are made available in the foods you eat prior to exercising). Alcoholic beverages also lower blood sugar levels and excessive alcohol consumption often causes hypoglycaemia.
Blood sugar levels are said to be hypoglycaemic when they are consistently below 70 mg/dL. When your blood sugar drops to hypoglycaemic levels the following symptoms may develop:
- Blurred Vision.
- Hunger Pangs.
- Increased Heart Rate.
Hypoglycaemia can affect all diabetics but it is more prevalent in people suffering from type 1 diabetes because they have to inject insulin regularly. If they inject too much insulin this often causes hypoglycaemia. Mild hypoglycaemia can normally be self treated by consuming approximately 10g – 20g of sugar. Glucose tablets are available for this specific purpose. More serious hypoglycaemia will often lead to a loss of consciousness and requires medical attention. In this case paramedics will often inject glucagon to raise blood sugar back to normal levels.
3) DIABETIC KETOACIDOSIS (DKA):- Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when there are a high concentration of ketone bodies in your blood stream. When your body does not get the glucose it requires (usually because of a lack of insulin) it starts to break down fat and muscle for energy instead. Ketones (fatty acids) are released into the blood stream when fat is broken down for energy. If your body uses fat for energy over a prolonged period, these ketones build up in your blood stream and this leads to a state of diabetic ketoacidosis.
The main cause of diabetic ketoacidosis is a lack of insulin which means the body cannot break down glucose properly and so it is forced to turn to fat and muscle for energy. However, it can also be brought on by illness and infection.
The symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include:
- Abdominal Pain.
- Fruity Smelling Breath (similar to the smell of nail polish remover).
- Hot and Dry Skin.
- Loss of Appetite.
All diabetics can suffer from diabetic ketoacidosis but it is much more prevalent amongst type 1 diabetics, especially when they fail to inject insulin regularly. Unlike hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemia, there are no mild forms of diabetic ketoacidosis. It is a very serious medical condition and needs to be addressed immediately. Untreated diabetic ketoacidosis can be fatal so if you notice any of the symptoms described you must seek immediate medical treatment.
4) HYPEROSMOTIC NON-KETOTIC ACIDOSIS (HONK):- This is a type of diabetic coma also known as nonketotic hyperosmolar coma, nonketotic hyperglycaemia and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic nonketotic coma (HHNKC). It is brought on by a lack of insulin in the body which causes glucose levels to rise excessively. The body responds by passing more urine to remove this excessive glucose from the blood. Failure to consume enough fluids can lead to extreme dehydration and eventual hyperosmotic non-ketotic acidosis.
Like with diabetic ketoacidosis, the main cause of hyperosmotic non-ketotic acidosis is a lack of insulin. However, it can also be triggered by illness or infection. The symptoms of hyperosmotic non-ketotic acidosis include:
- Dry Skin (that does not sweat).
- Fever with a Temperature.
- Increased Thirst (which does not disappear despite adequate fluid consumption).
- Weakness in one side of the body.
Hyperosmotic non-ketotic acidosis can affect all diabetics but is more common amongst type 2 diabetics. Like with diabetic ketoacidosis, it is a very serious condition and requires immediate hospital treatment.
5) PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY:- Peripheral neuropathy describes the loss of nerve functions in the arms and/or legs. It is usually brought on by nerve damage caused by diabetes. However, it can also be caused by alcoholism, exposure to poisons (usually from certain medication), other diseases (including kidney disease and liver disease), pressure on the nerves (especially when the peripheral neuropathy is affecting a single nerve) and vitamin deficiency (with vitamin B being particularly important for nerve health).
The major symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:
- Extreme Sensitivity to Touch.
- Lack of Co-Ordination.
- Numbness and Tingling in your Hands and Feet (which may spread upwards into your arms and legs).
- Sharp, Jabbing Pains.
Peripheral neuropathy can affect all diabetes sufferers and the symptoms can range from mild to severe. Peripheral neuropathy can usually be managed by eating a healthy diet which is high in B vitamins. However, painkillers may also be used for treatment if the condition starts to cause prolonged pain.
6) DIABETIC RETINOPATHY:- Diabetic retinopathy describes damage to the blood vessels of the light sensitive tissue located on the retina. This damage is caused by high blood sugar levels which initially cause the lens in your eye to swell (and may lead to blurred vision) and eventually cause permanent damage to the capillaries which supply your retina with blood.
The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:
- Blurred Vision.
- Dark Streaks which Block your Vision.
- Floating Spots in your Vision.
- Loss of Vision.
- Poor Night Vision.
All diabetics are susceptible to diabetic retinopathy. The symptoms can be reduced by manageing your diabetes effectively, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. However, for severe diabetic retinopathy corrective laser surgery may be required.
As you can see there are a lot of potential symptoms that can act as warning signs for diabetes. Generally, any symptoms develop gradually in type 2 diabetics and much more rapidly in type 1 diabetics. However, many of the symptoms are not caused exclusively by diabetes. Even if your blood sugar levels are low or your vision is blurred, this does not necessarily mean that you have diabetes. The only way to be sure is to get tested by your doctor. They will be able to make an accurate diagnosis and confirm whether you have pre-diabetes, gestational, type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Whilst every intention has been made to make this article accurate and informative, it is intended for general information only. Diabetes is a medical condition and this article is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your doctor or a qualified medical practitioner. If you have any concerns regarding any form of diabetes you should seek the advice of your doctor immediately.
Blood Glucose/Sugar Information (Wikipedia)
Diabetes and Hyperglycaemia Information (Diabetes.co.uk)
Diabetes and Hypoglycaemia Information (Diabetes.co.uk)
Diabetic Ketoacidosis Information (Yahoo Health)
Diabetic Retinopathy Information (Mayo Clinic)
Glucagon Information (Wikipedia)
Hyperglycaemia Information (NHS Direct)
Hypoglycaemia Information (NHS Direct)
Hyperosmotic Non-Ketotic Acidosis Information (Diabetes Wikia)
Insulin Information (Wikipedia)
Peripheral Neuropathu (Mayo Clinic)