8 Early Signs of Diabetes You Shouldn’t Ignore
More than 30 million Americans have diabetes. It’s also estimated that 90-95 percent of those individuals have type 2 diabetes. That’s a staggering statistic. Diabetes often develops over time, and it can be detected with a simple blood test. It’s essential for everyone to recognize the early signs of diabetes because it is a life-threatening chronic disease. However, it can be managed, especially if it is detected in the early stages.
These are the 8 early signs of type 2 diabetes. If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, visit a diabetes specialist to confirm whether you need treatment.
Having too much sugar in your bloodstream forces your kidneys to work harder at filtering the extra sugar. Chronically high blood sugar levels can overload your kidneys and cause you to excrete the excess sugar through urine. This can make you feel thirsty and dehydrated throughout the day. If you’re excessively thirsty despite drinking lots of water, try reducing your sugar intake or talk to a diabetes doctor.
Excessive thirst and frequent urination often go hand-in-hand when it comes to the signs of diabetes. The excess sugar in your bloodstream that can’t be filtered by your kidneys is flushed out with urine. Urinating frequently all day and through the night when you’re trying to sleep could indicate problems with insulin resistance.
Diabetes contributes to fatigue in two ways. First, dehydration can make you feel tired and sluggish. Second, diabetes interferes with the way your body uses glucose for energy. Ongoing fatigue that isn’t resolved with a good night of sleep is one of the most significant warning signs of diabetes.
Cuts, scrapes, and other wounds will heal more slowly if you’re suffering from diabetes. High blood sugar levels can lower your immunity to slow the body’s healing process. Many people who have diabetes also suffer from high blood pressure, which causes the blood vessels to narrow due to slow circulation; therefore wounds take longer to heal.
Diabetes puts you at risk for many vision problems due to the way chronically high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, including those in the eyes. Blurred vision, cataracts, and glaucoma are just a few of the vision problems linked to diabetes. If you’ve started experiencing vision problems, meet with a diabetes specialist right away to prevent and reduce your risk for vision loss and blindness. Fortunately, treating and reversing diabetes early can help you stabilize your blood sugar and improve your vision.
Insulin is a hormone that is similar to estrogen, testosterone, and hunger hormones – leptin and ghrelin. When your body stops producing or using insulin as it should, your hormone levels can fluctuate to cause mood swings, irritability, and depression. Eating healthier foods, lowering blood sugar levels, and receiving diabetes care can all help regulate and address your mood swings.
Pins-and-needles sensations in your feet, toes, hands, and fingers are common signs of diabetes. People who suffer from diabetes will often experience numbness and tingling in their extremities. This sensation can indicate diabetic neuropathy, which is a form of nerve damage caused by chronically high blood sugar levels. When left untreated, severe cases of diabetic neuropathy can lead to amputation. See a diabetes doctor immediately if you’re experiencing numbness and tingling in your extremities.
Diabetes can trigger food cravings for many reasons. For instance, depression and mood swings caused by hormonal imbalances can have you reaching for comfort foods like sweets. These same hormonal imbalances can also upset the balance of your hunger hormones to cause junk food cravings.
Additionally, insulin resistance can have you craving carbs and sweets that instantly spike your blood sugar. If you’ve been experiencing strong food cravings lately — especially for sweets — make an appointment with a diabetes specialist to undergo blood testing.
Pump, Pen, Injection? Which Way Should You Take Insulin?
If you have diabetes and your doctor recommends insulin to help control your blood sugar, you will want to discuss all the options for insulin delivery. Figuring out which delivery method is best for you may depend on a variety of factors, such as which type of diabetes you have, the type of insulin your doctor recommends, and how often you may need it.
The more you know, the better you will be able to discuss your options with your doctor.
What Is Insulin?
According to the American Diabetes Association, insulin is a naturally occurring hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use and store sugar from carbohydrates in the food you eat. When you have too much sugar in your blood, called hyperglycemia, the pancreas produces insulin to balance it out.
People with type 1 diabetes have an abnormal pancreas that cannot make insulin and need to inject insulin to help their bodies process blood sugar and avoid damage to blood vessels and organs.
People with type 2 diabetes either do not produce sufficient amounts of insulin or are resistant to insulin. Diet, exercise, and oral medications may be enough to control blood sugar for these people, but type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. The longer a person has it, the more likely they will need insulin to better maintain proper blood sugar levels.
There are more than 20 types of insulin sold in the US, according to the ADA, and they differ in how they are made, how they work, and how much they cost:
Types of Insulin Delivery
Insulin cannot be taken orally because stomach acid breaks it down before it can enter the bloodstream. Consequently, the route of administration for insulin can be by injection, including syringe or single-dose pen, or by intravenous pump. Each method of administering insulin has advantages and disadvantages.
Insulin via subcutaneous injection delivers insulin directly into the layer of fat under the skin. Syringe injection uses a needle and tube that requires the user to draw the proper dose from a vial. Injection pens are self-contained syringes that hold a premeasured dose of insulin in a single-use cartridge. Some pens are single-use, while others allow replacing the cartridge for each use.
According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, the advantages of injections are that:
The disadvantages are:
Insulin Pump Delivery
Small, computerized devices can pump insulin through a catheter inserted into the layer of fat below the skin. Pumps deliver insulin two ways, in a continuous steady dose throughout the day called basal dosing that mimics how your body is supposed to release insulin as needed, or in a surge or bolus dose at your direction, usually around mealtime.
The American Diabetes Association lists several advantages and disadvantages to using an insulin pump. Advantages include:
What Is the Difference Between My A1c and the Numbers on My Glucometer?
When your doctor says you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, it’s usually because of your A1c test result. If your A1c is over 5.7 but below 6.4, you like have prediabetes. If it’s over 6.5 on two or more tests, you likely have type 2 diabetes.
You will get a glucometer with your first prescription of test strips and fingersticks. The doctor will tell you to aim for readings between 80 and 130 before a meal and under 180 after a meal. And if you are like most people, you will wonder how to make sense of all this new information.
Why the Two Measures of Blood Sugar?
Blood sugar, or glucose, is generally measured in two ways. The first way is usually done in a lab and tells your doctor about your HbA1c, or often just referred to as A1c. This measurement is a percentage of hemoglobin that is bound with glucose in your blood.
Hemoglobin, abbreviated as Hb, is the part of the red blood cell that carries oxygen to your cells. Glucose, which is also used by cells for energy, hitches a ride on the hemoglobin, and with the help of insulin gets into your cells, where it is used for energy or stored.
The more hemoglobin with glucose attached, also called glycated hemoglobin, circulating in your blood, the higher the percentage of these glucose-bound red blood cells. Thus, your HbA1c is a measure of the percentage of these glycated hemoglobin cells in the blood.
The second way blood sugar levels are measured is in terms of weight per volume. A gram is equal to the weight of 16 drops of water and a milligram is one-thousandths of a gram. A deciliter is one-tenth of a liter. Thus, glucose reading on your glucometer of 100 is 100 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of plasma.
What Does A1c Tell Me About Blood Glucose?
Your doctor is interested in your A1c, or the amount of glycated hemoglobin in your blood, because it reflects your average blood glucose levels over the past three months. The normal average range for A1c varies with age and many other factors, but in general, for most otherwise healthy adults, the range is below 5.7 percent, and for people with diabetes it is between 5.7 percent and 7 percent.
What Does My Glucometer Tell Me About Blood Glucose?
Your glucose meter will show you how much glucose is in your blood at the moment you prick your finger and sample the drop of blood. Using a glucose meter is a way to see the effects of the foods you eat, the amount of exercise you do, and the medications you take to manage your blood sugar.
Many people with diabetes aim to keep their blood sugar levels as close to the normal range as possible, which is around 80 milligrams per deciliter before a meal and less than 180 mg per deciliter two hours after a meal. You and your doctor will determine the best target range for you.
If you are of African, Mediterranean, or Southeast Asian descent, you may have what is called a hemoglobin variant, which can make the A1c test unreliable for diagnosing and monitoring diabetes. Likewise, people with sickle cell anemia or thalassemia may not get accurate results from the A1c test. The National Glycohemoglobin Standardization Program (NGSP) has developed information for diabetes healthcare providers about which hemoglobin tests to use for patients with such variants.
Why Does Obesity Increase your Risk to Type 2 Diabetes?
If you are carrying excess weight and have been told you are at risk of or have type 2 diabetes, you’ve probably been told to lose weight. Of course, nearly everyone whose weight has been a problem for some time already knows they should lose weight, but few ask why. What is it about being overweight or obese leads to type 2 diabetes?
Ever since a pair of studies appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that weight loss could prevent and even reverse newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes, doctors have recommended weight loss along with physical exercise as one of the first things to do to treat the disease. 
More recently, Harvard researchers have figured out how excess weight ends up causing the disease. In their study published in the journal Science, they found that obesity stresses a system of cell membranes called endoplasmic reticulum (ER), which is responsible for processing proteins and fats.
When subjected to excess lipids, or blood fats, the ER becomes overworked and sends an SOS signal that causes the cell to shut down its receptors for insulin. Insulin is a hormone that converts blood sugar to energy for the body’s cells.
This process is designed to be a temporary response to too many nutrients, but when it’s performed time and time again, can create insulin resistance and a reduced ability of the body to clear excess blood sugar or glucose from the body.
Obesity-driven Insulin Resistance May Cause Metabolic Syndrome
In addition to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, carrying excess weight can also lead to what is called metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
According to MedlinePlus, metabolic syndrome includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides (fat in your blood), low levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol), and too much fat around the waist. It is unknown how excess weight and metabolic syndrome are linked, but some doctors think the cause is insulin resistance.
Weight Loss Offers Highest Return in Overall Health
In short, losing weight can give you one of the best returns on your investment of time and effort for your overall health. By losing weight, you reduce the workload on the ER, turn off the SOS signal, and allow cells to take in insulin again, thus breaking the vicious cycle of weight gain, insulin resistance, and higher glucose.
But it is not enough to just lose a few pounds if your goal is to reverse type 2 diabetes. Several studies have found that losing in excess of 30 pounds, or more than 10 percent of one’s body weight, is needed to reverse type 2 diabetes.
Weight Loss Takes a Plan to Reverse Type 2 Diabetes
Losing that much weight is not easy; it takes a plan, commitment, and often a coach or someone you trust to help you. The American Diabetes Association offers a complete resource guide for weight loss from goal-setting to making a plan and good food choices.
In terms of exercise, any type of physical exercise can help. The more you move, the more energy you burn, which will cause your body to use blood sugar and remove it from your blood. The ADA recommends aerobic exercise and strength training, but also recommends just increasing your activity level each day. Park further away from the entrance of wherever you are going will increase the number of steps you take each day. Get off the elevator one floor from your destination and walk up the final flight.
In addition to ridding yourself of a life of diabetes medication and potential complications, losing weight will also reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome and related cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
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