Most Common Early Symptoms of Diabetes
Diabetes mellitus is a disease of the pancreas and is a group of metabolic diseases. It is characterized by an excess of glucose in the blood (called hyperglycaemia) because of a defect in insulin action, insulin secretion or both. Insulin is secreted by the Pancreas. It is a disease where the body’s ability to respond to the hormone insulin is impaired.
Diabetes is a serious and complex condition which can affect the entire body. If proper care is not taken, it can significantly impact on quality of life, and may be responsible for a reduction in life expectancy.
The chronic hyperglycaemia of diabetes is mostly associated with long-term dysfunction and damage, organ failures and especially adversely affects the eyes, nerves, kidneys, heart and blood vessels. Currently, there is no cure for diabetes, but a good life can be led by learning about the condition and it’s effective and proper management.
Mechanism of Action of Insulin
Insulin is produced by beta cells of the pancreas. It is a peptide hormone and is responsible for regulating fat and carbohydrate metabolism in the body. Insulin causes cells of fat tissue, liver and skeletal muscles to absorb glucose from the blood. Glucose is stored as a glycogen in the liver and skeletal muscles, whereas in fat cells, glucose is stored as triglycerides. Insulin works along with glucose in the blood stream to help it enter the cells of the body to be burned as a fuel for energy. If insulin does not function properly then glucose will not enter the cells. This results in increased levels of glucose in the blood cells. When a control on insulin level fails then it may result in diabetes mellitus.
Most Common Early Symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus
Experiencing more thirst (polydipsia) than usual and passing more urine (polyuria)
A diabetic person develops high sugar levels in the blood, which overwhelms the ability of the kidney to reabsorb the sugar during the blood filtration process in the kidney to make urine. So, urine is made in excess. As a result, the body tries to counteract this by sending the brain a signal to dilute the blood which is translated into thirst. In reaction, the body encourages more consumption of water to dilute the high blood sugar back to the normal values, and to compensate the excessive amount of water lost during excessive urination.
Feeling tired, lethargic or fatigued
In diabetes mellitus, sometimes the body is inefficient and unable to utilize glucose for fuel to produce energy. In that case, the body switches over to metabolize fat partially or completely as a source of fuel to produce energy. But this process requires the body to use more energy, and this results in feeling constantly lethargic, fatigued or tired.
Always feeling hungry or excessive eating (polyphagia)
In the case of high blood sugar levels, the body will try to secrete more insulin to manage the excess sugar. But with type 2 diabetes, there is insulin resistance and the body resists the action of insulin. This lack of energy will cause an increase in hunger and thus polyphagia. Simply eating will not get rid of the hunger feeling in people with uncontrolled diabetes, as this will just add to the already high levels of blood glucose. The best method of reducing blood sugar is to exercise. This will help in stimulating insulin production and reducing blood sugar levels.
Unexplained weight loss
Despite eating more, the diabetic person will gain very little weight and may even lose weight. In diabetic people, insufficient levels of insulin prevent the body from getting glucose from the blood into the body’s cells. If this happens, the body starts burning muscle and fat for energy and thus causing a reduction in overall body weight. Loss of water and sugar in the urine and the accompanying dehydration may also contribute to further weight loss. This unexpected loss of weight is often noticed in people prior to the diagnosis of type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Having cuts that heal slowly or poor wound healing
High levels of blood glucose prevent white blood cells (WBC) from functioning normally. These WBC are important in the defence of the body against bacteria as well as in cleaning up dead cells and tissues from the body. If these cells do not function properly, then wounds will take a longer time to heal and they become more easily and frequently infected. When diabetes is long standing, it also causes thickening of the blood vessels, which prevents good circulation and delivery of enough nutrients and oxygen to the tissues in the body. This also contributes to slow and poor healing of wounds.
Itching, skin infections
Some infections may be as a result of the suppression of the immune system, by the presence of high glucose in the tissues, which allow bacteria to grow. These infections are frequent fungal infections of the genitals, skin infections, dental infections and frequent urine infections. These infections are also an indicator for poor control of blood sugar in diabetics.
Blurred vision is not specific to diabetes but it may be present here. Diabetic retinopathy is common in uncontrolled diabetes, therefore, frequent eye check-ups and a fundoscopy is advised for chronic diabetics.
Mood swings or altered mental status
In the case of uncontrolled diabetes, these symptoms can be found which need urgent attention and help. The symptoms are –
- Unexplained irritability
- Extreme lethargy
Any of these symptoms are a cause for alarm and immediate attention is required.
Leg cramps occur because an increased blood sugar level causes excessive urination leading to dehydration. These cramps, along with pain in the legs and arms, are signs of diabetic neuropathy. This neuropathy is the damage to the nerves because of high blood glucose levels.
Peripheral neuropathy is the commonest form of diabetic neuropathy. This neuropathy may result in decreased sensation in the legs and feet. Signs and symptoms are often worse at night and include reduced ability to feel pain, numbness and temperature changes.
About the Author
Dr Shabnam Sharjil
Dr. Shabnam Sharjil is a doctor as well as a writer by profession with more than 10 years of experience in medicine. Dr. Shabnam completed her MBBS in 2005 and then did her postgraduate DNB training. She has experience with general as well as diabetic patients. She has worked in different government as well as private hospitals.
Dr. Shabnam loves writing on medical topics in a language that is easy for everyone to understand.