Diabetes mellitus, commonly known as diabetes, is a chronic disease characterized by high levels of glucose in the blood, otherwise known as hyperglycemia. With more than 422 million people globally diagnosed with this condition, the importance of understanding its early warning signs cannot be overemphasized.
Early detection allows for better management, preventing or delaying complications such as cardiovascular diseases, nerve damage, kidney disease, and eye damage.
1. Understanding Diabetes
Diabetes is primarily divided into two main types: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas this leads to a complete deficiency of insulin, the hormone responsible for facilitating the entry of glucose into cells.
On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes – the most common form of diabetes – results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin, leading to insulin resistance. Over time, this puts significant pressure on the pancreas to produce more insulin, which often cannot keep up, leading to hyperglycemia.
Prediabetes, a condition characterized by higher-than-normal blood glucose levels but not high enough to be classified as diabetes, is a critical stage that often precedes Type 2 diabetes. Notably, individuals with prediabetes often experience no symptoms, making regular check-ups imperative.
2. Signs and Symptoms of Early Diabetes
- Increased Thirst and Frequent Urination: Excessive thirst (polydipsia) and increased urination (polyuria) are often among the first noticeable signs of diabetes. When there’s excess sugar in your bloodstream, your kidneys, in an attempt to filter and absorb the surplus glucose, produce more urine, making you urinate more frequently. This, in turn, leads to increased thirst as the body tries to replenish lost fluids.
- Unexplained Weight Loss: Despite eating more than usual to relieve persistent hunger (polyphagia), you may lose weight without enough insulin to move sugar into your cells, your muscles and organs become depleted of energy. This triggers intense hunger. Simultaneously, your body may start to break down stored fat and muscle for energy, leading to weight loss.
- Fatigue: Insufficient sugar in your cells can make you tired and lethargic. This is because glucose, which is our body’s main energy source, cannot be efficiently utilized due to lack of insulin or insulin resistance, leading to persistent fatigue.
- Blurred Vision: High blood sugar levels can cause the lens in the eye to swell, changing your eye’s ability to focus, leading to blurred vision. This isn’t limited to people with diagnosed diabetes; it can also affect those with prediabetes or undiagnosed diabetes.
- Slow-Healing Sores or Frequent Infections: Over time, high blood sugar can impact blood flow and cause nerve damage, making it harder for the body to heal wounds. This could lead to persistent sores or infections.
- Tingling, Pain, or Numbness in Hands or Feet: These are common symptoms of nerve damage (neuropathy), a potential complication of diabetes. The onset of Type 2 diabetes may be gradual, and the initial nerve damage can be slight. As such, you might not notice these symptoms initially.
3. Importance of Early Diagnosis and Management
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to numerous health complications, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, dental disease, nerve damage, and foot problems. However, when diagnosed early, diabetes can be controlled through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, oral medications, and insulin therapy when necessary.
Screening for diabetes is typically done through blood tests, including the glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test, fasting plasma glucose test, and the oral glucose tolerance test.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above or have risk factors for diabetes (including obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, family history of diabetes, or a personal history of gestational diabetes), it is essential to get tested.
Early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes can mean the difference between living a long, healthy life and suffering from severe complications and health issues. Therefore, understanding the early symptoms of diabetes is crucial in curbing its incidence and progression.
Regular check-ups, particularly for those at risk, are an important preventative measure. Should you notice any signs suggesting diabetes, consult with a healthcare provider immediately.