Americans are in the middle of a diabetes epidemic—a tribute to our habitual overindulgence. Type 2 diabetes is a product of unhealthy food choices as well as the evolutionary pressures built into our DNA that urge us to eat when food is available. This was once necessary for our ancestors when food was scarce, but now with the abundance of food readily available to most of us, what once made sense now makes us sick.
How do I know if I have diabetes?
The easiest way is to get a blood test to check your sugar levels. Everyone 45 and over as well as those with risk factors for diabetes, such as being overweight or having a family history of diabetes, should get routine screening. Because most people with diabetes have no symptoms specific to their diabetes, lab screening is the only way to detect the condition.
However, for people whose blood sugar has risen substantially*—over 180 mg/dL—there are signs that you need to know about.
What are some common warning signs of diabetes?
Constant Urge to Pee (Polyuria or Nocturia)
The constant need to urinate is caused by excess sugar in your blood driving fluid into your kidneys, which in turn make and excrete more urine than normal to get rid of the extra sugar. Nocturia, or peeing at night, is a manifestation of polyuria.
Constant Thirst (Polydipsia)
Polydipsia develops when excessive urination makes you quickly become dehydrated, and you need to drink more fluid to keep up.
The lenses of your eyes store sugar. As sugar stores fluctuate, your vision will fluctuate as well.
Most people who develop adult onset type 2 diabetes get it from gaining weight. However, if the disease goes unchecked, it can affect your metabolism and lead to weight loss. Unexplained weight loss is a tip-off to a potentially serious underlying illness, and you should be screened for diabetes in this setting.
Elderly people with diabetes, especially those without easy access to fluid replacement, may become severely dehydrated and get so ill that they lose their cognitive faculties. This ranges from mild confusion to delirium. If the process continues, they can become comatose.
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What health complications can diabetes present?
Serious complications of diabetes—nerve damage, retinal damage, kidney damage, and vascular disease, including heart disease—usually only develop if you have had diabetes for years. However, some people who have never been diagnosed may have symptoms such as numbness, tingling or pain in their feet, or severe visual defects that reflect chronic complications. Sometimes a diagnosis isn’t made until a person is admitted to the hospital following a heart attack.
When should I contact my provider?
Diagnosing diabetes early is important. Early intervention can prevent the devastating complications of the disease and potentially prolong your life. If you think you may have symptoms of diabetes or feel that screening is right for you, contact your health care provider.
*Author’s Note: Normal is below 100 mg/dL and diabetes is considered present if a fasting blood sugar is above 126 mg/dL.