July 11, 2014

Diabetes has been called “the great imitator.”  Diabetes symptoms can look like they belong to a variety of different diseases. It can also be the silent killer because high blood sugar levels can frequently go unnoticed.  Disease onset can be quite slow, often taking 10 years or more to develop. Therefore, diabetes symptoms may not be apparent.  This is why it is important to get regular physical exams with complete lab panels with your doctor. Make sure your doctor orders a fasting blood sugar level as well as an HbA1C, which indicates how your blood sugars have been over the past 3 months.

Below are diabetes symptoms you must be aware of:

  • increased thirst– This diabetes symptom is related to the increased urination caused by high glucose levels in the blood. This causes dehydration, and along with it, increased thirst.
  • increased urination– This is caused by increased glucose levels in the blood that get excreted in the urine.  As a result, fluids get pulled out of your tissues.
  • increased appetite– With high blood sugar levels, the glucose from the blood can not enter the cells, to be used as fuel. This leads to increased appetite in an effort to improve energy levels and fuel for the body.
  • blurred vision- This is a common diabetes symptom, due to sugar building up in the lens. High blood sugar levels can also damage blood vessels in the retina.
  • weight loss– Normally, when food is eaten during a meal, the glucose stimulates the release of insulin. Insulin helps the cells take up and use the sugar for energy.  With the insulin resistance that occurs with diabetes, the body can not utilize insulin properly. The tissues have difficulty taking up glucose as fuel, leading to weight loss.
  • fatigue– This is a nonspecific symptom frequently seen in diabetes. It improves with better control of the disease.

-male reproductive symptoms– Diabetes can affect many organ systems. It can lead to erectile dysfunction in men, which is one of the most common complications of diabetes. Erectile dysfunction can also be a marker for heart disease.  Low testosterone is frequently found in men with diabetes, and can further compound the erectile dysfunction. Improvement in testosterone levels are associated with improvement in metabolic syndrome. This can lead to improvement in glucose levels, cholesterol, weight, and muscle mass.

-female reproductive symptoms– Women with high blood sugar levels are prone to develop vaginal yeast infections. Symptoms include itching and discharge.

-skin symptoms– Diabetes is known to affect the skin, frequently causing dry, itchy skin, as well as difficulty with wound healing. Insulin resistance can also lead to the development of skin tags, and what is known as acanthosis nigricans.  These are brown to black velvety areas of the skin, usually found in the skin folds such as the neck, armpits, and groin. They are commonly mistaken for dirt, with affected persons attempting to rub off and clean without any success.

-symptoms due to nerve damage– Diabetes frequently affects the nerves, and this may sometimes appear as the first hint of the presence of diabetes. Symptoms include burning, numbness, or tingling of the feet.

For more information, please feel free to Ask the Doctor.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Chatrawee Wiratgasem