The symptoms of diabetes can be puzzling. Even the common ones may not be present in all cases. They may come and go. And the same symptoms can be produced by other conditions. Nevertheless, there are a cluster of common circumstances that tend to mark out the disease.
Unusually frequent urination is one of the classic symptoms that suggests the possibility of diabetes. One defining attribute of the disease is excessive glucose levels in the blood. Either the body produces too little insulin to deal with it (Type 1 diabetes), or the insulin isn’t used correctly (Type 2).
The body attempts to compensate by eliminating the excess glucose using the urine. The kidneys work at higher than normal levels to filter out the excess sugar. When they can’t remove enough, the remainder is passed through when other fluids are eliminated as waste products of metabolic processes.
One result, and an accompanying symptom, is excessive thirst. The diabetic feels as if he or she is always thirsty, and no matter how much fluid is taken in it never seems like enough. That in turn prompts still more urination.
Another common and possible symptom is continual fatigue. Since insulin isn’t performing its role properly by aiding the cells to take in glucose from the bloodstream, the diabetic may feel tired. Glucose is the major source of energy for powering an enormous variety of the body’s functions from cell repair to major muscle movement.
But other body systems can be affected by diabetes and show up as symptoms.
Blurry vision can result from any number of conditions, even simple age where it is often just presbyopia. Presbyopia results from reduced elasticity of the lenses as we age, leading to a lessened ability to focus. But the cause in the case of diabetes is very different.
High blood sugar levels reduce fluid in the tissues, including those of the eye and in particular the lenses. That affects your ability to focus. When the disease becomes more advanced it can cause new blood vessels to form in the retina. That again affects your vision. Though in this circumstance, the result is more often seeing dark spots or flashing lights, or rings around room lights.
In some instances, cuts (particularly on the feet) may be slower to heal when a person has Type 2 diabetes. The reasons are not yet fully understood, but it is one more indicator. At the same time, the immune system is affected, leading to a lowered ability to fight off infection.
Since so many of these symptoms can be (and are) produced by a number of other conditions, the best course of action if you suspect you have diabetes is to seek a professional diagnosis. Simple blood tests can determine with a high degree of confidence whether or not you do in fact have the disease. They’re relatively painless and most are covered by ordinary health insurance.