Definition of Diabetes
Diabetes is a type of disease in which the body fails to regulate the amount of glucose necessary for the body. Diabetes does not allow the body to produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles. Diabetes has widespread fallout, with more than 16 million people affected by it in the United States alone. Even more concerning is the fact that a wide number of people affected by the disease remain unidentified or are unaware that they have it. Diabetes is one of the major metabolic disorders that affect the human body. People with diabetes have a high level of blood sugar needs to be controlled by a combination of diet, exercise, and medication.
Diabetes has various symptoms which are obvious to those who are aware of the disease. In most cases, those who don't know of the disease remain unaware of the symptoms until the disease is advanced, and damage has been done. Apart from the symptoms unique to the different types of diabetes, there are some common symptoms which occur to those affected by the disease. These symptoms are:
- Fatigue: In diabetes, the body is inefficiently uses, or sometimes is unable to use glucose for fuel. The body switches over to metabolizing fat, partially or completely, as a fuel source. This process requires the body to use more energy. The end result is feeling fatigued or constantly tired.
- Unexplained weight loss: People with diabetes are unable to process many of the calories in the foods they eat. Thus, they may lose weight even though they eat an apparently appropriate or even excessive amount of food. Losing sugar and water in the urine and the accompanying dehydration also contributes to weight loss.
- Excessive thirst (polydipsia): A person with diabetes develops high blood sugar levels which overwhelm the ability of the kidneys to reabsorb the sugar as the blood is filtered. The body tries to compensate for this in two ways. One way is the kidneys produce extra urine to flush out the excess sugar. The other way is the body tries to counteract the high blood sugar levels by sending a signal to the brain to dilute the blood. Both methods translate into excessive thirst.
- Excessive urination (polyuria): The body tries to get rid of the extra sugar in the blood by creating extra urine, which results in excessive urination. This can lead to dehydration because excreting the sugar carries a large amount of water out of the body along with it.
- Excessive eating (polyphagia): If the body is able, it will secrete more insulin in order to try to deal with the excessive blood sugar levels. Moreover, the body is resistant to the action of insulin in type 2 diabetes. One of the functions of insulin is to stimulate hunger. Therefore, higher insulin levels lead to increased hunger and eating. Despite increased caloric intake, the person may gain very little weight and may even lose weight.
- Poor wound healing: High blood sugar levels prevent white blood cells, which are important in defending the body against bacteria and also in cleaning up dead tissue and cells, from functioning normally. When these cells do not function properly wounds take much longer to heal and become infected more frequently. Also, long-standing diabetes that is left untreated causes a thickening of the blood vessels. This prevents proper circulation. As a result not enough oxygen and nutrients are delivered to body's tissues, hindering the body's ability to heal.
- Infections: Certain infections, such as frequent yeast infections of the genitals, skin infections, and frequent urinary tract infections, may result from suppression of the immune system by diabetes and by the presence of glucose in the tissues, which allow bacteria to grow well.
- Altered mental status: Agitation, unexplained irritability, inattention, extreme lethargy, or confusion can all be signs of very high blood sugar (hyperglycemic hypersmolar nonketotic syndrome) which can cause severe dehydration and even cause a person to lapse into a coma, or hypoglycemia (low sugar). Thus, any of these merit the immediate attention of a medical professional. Call your health care provider or 911.
- Blurry vision: Blurry vision is not specific for diabetes but is frequently present with high blood sugar levels.