Today is World Diabetes Day. Do you or someone close to you have diabetes? There are 100,000 new cases every year so more often than not, diabetes surrounds us in our daily lives.
Diabetes is currently the 6th leading cause of death in Australia and the prevalence of diabetes is highest between ages 60 and 79 – one in four of us have it.
It is often called the silent killer because of its easy-to-miss symptoms. The potential effects of leaving diabetes diagnosis for too long can rapidly decrease a person’s quality of life. Issues can include kidney failure, cardiovascular problems, amputation, nerve damage and blindness.
The top nine symptoms of both Type I and Type II diabetes can include:
1. Excessive thirst and the need to urinate frequently
If you need to urinate frequently, particularly if you often have to get up at night to use the bathroom, it could be a symptom of diabetes.
The kidneys kick into high gear to get rid of all that extra glucose in the blood, hence the urge to relieve yourself, sometimes several times during the night.
The excessive thirst means your body is trying to replenish those lost fluids.
2. Weight loss
Overly high blood sugar levels can also cause rapid weight loss, say 3 to 10kg over two or three months, but this is not a healthy weight loss.
Because the insulin hormone isn’t getting glucose into the cells, where it can be used as energy, the body thinks it’s starving and starts breaking down protein from the muscles as an alternate source of fuel.
The kidneys are also working overtime to eliminate the excess sugar, and this leads to a loss of calories and can harm the kidneys.
Excessive pangs of hunger, another sign of diabetes, can come from sharp peaks and lows in blood sugar levels.
When blood sugar levels plummet, the body thinks it hasn’t been fed and craves more of the glucose that cells need to function.
4. Skin problems
Itchy skin, perhaps the result of dry skin or poor circulation, can often be a warning sign of diabetes, as are other skin conditions, such as the darkening of skin around the neck or armpit area.
5. Slow healing skin
Infections, cuts, and bruises that don’t heal quickly are another classic sign of diabetes.
This usually happens because the blood vessels are being damaged by the excessive amounts of glucose traveling the veins and arteries.
This makes it hard for blood to reach different areas of the body and thus heal your skin.
6. Yeast infections
Diabetes causes heightened susceptibility to a variety of infections and the most common are yeast and other fungal infections.
7. Fatigue and mood swings
When people have high blood sugar levels for a prolonged period, they can become used to not feeling well with fatigue and mood swings.
Getting up to go to the bathroom several times during the night will make anyone tired, as will the extra effort your body is expending to compensate for its glucose deficiency.
8. Blurry vision
Having distorted vision and seeing floaters or occasional flashes of light are a direct result of high blood sugar levels.
When the glucose in the blood is high, it changes the shape of the lens and the eye.
The good news is that this symptom is reversible once blood sugar levels are returned to normal or near normal. But let your blood sugar go unchecked for long periods and the glucose will cause permanent damage, possibly even blindness.
9. Tingling or numbness
Tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, along with burning pain or swelling, are signs that nerves are being damaged by diabetes.
If the symptoms are recent, it’s more likely to be reversible. But like vision, if blood sugar levels are allowed to run rampant for too long, nerve damage will be permanent. That’s why early detection is important and blood sugar controlled as quickly as possible.
There are several tests used to check for diabetes with one blood test being the fasting plasma glucose test, which checks your blood sugar after a night (or eight hours) of not eating.
Blood glucose above 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) on two occasions means you have diabetes. The normal cutoff is 99 mg/dL while a blood sugar level of 100 to 125 mg/dL is considered pre-diabetes, a serious condition on its own.
While the thought of being diagnosed with diabetes may be frightening, when it is diagnosed and managed early, you can still maintain a great quality of life.
There have been studies to suggest that foods including seeds and nuts, garlic, onions, berries and green tea may help to prevent the development of diabetes. Avoiding processed sugars and flour based products can also contribute to preventing diabetes development.
The most important part of keeping diabetes-free is to maintain a balanced lifestyle with regular diet and exercise to help your body manage insulin levels.
As seniors, it is best to seek medical advice as soon as you notice any symptoms. It is always better to be over-cautious than to be at risk.
For further information there are many organisations worldwide that provide information and resources to those affected by diabetes such as Diabetes Australia and the International Diabetes Federation.
Do you have a story to share about living with diabetes or helping a loved one?