Have you ever wondered what the symptoms of diabetes are? There are similarities across type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but there are also a few key differences too. People with all types of diabetes can, but not necessarily, have a shorter life expectancy. The presence of diabetes does not in itself lead to a shorter life, but rather having high blood sugar levels does. Having good control of sugar levels will cause a person with diabetes to live as full and healthy a life as anybody else. For this reason, it is important to understand and recognise any symptoms relating to diabetes. Diagnosing diabetes mellitus early can save your life in the short term but with proper management of the condition long term complications can be avoided too.
Diabetes is a common condition affecting more and more people every day. In 2016, diabetes was the direct cause of death in 1.6 million people (WHO, 2018) worldwide. If we consider death from diabetes related conditions, it is estimated to lead to the death 4 million people every year around the world, more than malaria, TB, and HIV combined.
In diabetes mellitus, symptoms that you experience are related to:
a) the severity of diabetes, i.e. how high your blood glucose levels are,
b) how long you have had the condition, i.e. how long you have had high blood glucose levels for.
When a person initially develops type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas rapidly fail to produce adequate amounts of insulin. Since there is little insulin, blood glucose levels rise very quickly. The symptoms of diabetes happen rapidly, are severe, and people notice that they are unwell quite quickly. If a person develops type 1 diabetes slowly, then these symptoms may take months to develop but often it is weeks.
In people with type 2 diabetes, the progression of the condition happens much more slowly, over the course of several years, so the symptoms happen slowly and are often subtle. You may not even notice anything at all, or you may even dismiss them as a normal part of growing older.
By the time that you notice something isn’t quite right, you could have been experiencing high blood glucose levels for years! Often people who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, have had diabetes for perhaps 5 years and borderline diabetes for many years before that.
The most common sign of diabetes is…
That’s right. Nothing. The reason that doctors need to test for diabetes (and people need to demand it), is that most people have no idea that they have it. This regular testing is most important in people at the highest risk of developing diabetes.
If you want to learn how type 2 diabetes mellitus can affect men and women differently, we can also written dedicated artcles to answer your questions:
Fatigue is another common type 2 diabetes symptom. You may often feel tired, regardless of how much you have eaten, because your cells are not able to use the glucose that is broken down from the food.
If you’re needing to make a lot of trips to the bathroom at night, this can also disrupt your sleep. Waking up multiple times throughout the night could mean you aren’t able to get a restful sleep, leaving you to feel tired throughout the day. This ongoing fatigue can make you easily irritable. It’s no wonder why you may be feeling more grumpy than usual!
When your blood glucose levels are high, a lot of the glucose passes into the urine. Because you lose so much glucose in your urine, it also attracts water, meaning that you are making a lot of urine, causing you to need to pee a lot! If you are going to the toilet a lot and losing a lot of urine, then you are quickly becoming dehydrated. If you are dehydrated, you become thirsty. People who feel they need to constantly drink lots of water may have diabetes and it needs to be tested for.
If a person with high sugar tries to deal with their thirst by drinking sugar containing fruit juice or soft drinks, then the blood sugar can become even higher, resulting in even more sugar in the urine, even more urine production, and worsening dehydration. It’s a vicious cycle.