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Home / Diabetes / Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes is a serious condition that affects 1 in 25 of the UK's population. It's estimated that on top of this an extra half million Brits are undiagnosed. There are two types of diabetes mellitus - Type 1 that is an autoimmune disease, and type 2 that is usually developed for a number of reasons but increasingly through diet and lifestyle choices.

How Is Diabetes Diagnosed

Diabetes is diagnosed through blood tests and from symptoms. Symptoms occur because the excess glucose isn't being used as fuel, so your body tries to get rid of it in other ways such as through urine. People with diabetes find one of their first symptoms is the need to urinate a lot.

Symptoms of both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
Excess urination Excess urination at nighttime Feeling thirsty
Feeling tired Losing weight Fungal infections like thrush
Blurred vision Cuts that won't heal or take a long time to heal Sweet or fruity breath

Most men and women with diabetes will experience the same symptoms of increased thirst, frequent urination, sweet breath, tiredness, slow to heal wounds, mood swings, vision difficulties and unexplained weight loss, but there are some symptoms more relevant to a particular gender.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes symptoms

The symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are similar and listed above, but many find that type 1 symptoms appear very rapidly and the patient is left extremely unwell.

Without rapid support it can lead to death through diabetic ketoacidosis. Children are more likely to be diagnosed with type 1 in early life, but adults may not recognise symptoms in themselves straight away.

Type 2 diabetes can develop with slight changes and symptoms that are not always recognised until health complications become apparent. Untreated type 2 diabetes can take time to recognise, and during that period cause serious health problems. It can affect the body's organs and blood vessels your eyes, kidneys and nerves.

One area that can be badly affected is your eyesight. 40% of type 1 and 20% of type 2 diabetics develop diabetic retinopathy. This is when fluctuating blood sugar levels damage blood vessels in the eye, eventually leading to cataracts if not treated.

Anyone who has the symptoms of diabetes should consult their doctor without delay.

Diabetes symptoms in men

Men may develop diabetes more readily than women. Research suggests that men are more susceptible and need to gain less weight to develop diabetes.

Symptoms that men with diabetes may experience include erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, can be caused or worsened by diabetes as blood sugar can damage the nerves in the penis.

As men with type 2 diabetes are more likely to be overweight, excess weight can exacerbate the problem, preventing blood from reaching the penis.

Retrograde ejaculation may occur whereby semen is released into the bladder. An overactive bladder, difficulty reaching the toilet in time to urinate, and urinary tract infections are all more likely in male diabetics.

Men may also find they lose muscle mass with diabetes. This is because the body will break down fat and muscle for energy if none, or a limited amount, can be extracted from the blood sugar. This happens to women too, but is more noticeable in men due to differences in physique.

Diabetes symptoms in women

Women with diabetes may experience symptoms that are not noticeable in men or do not occur at all.

Thrush or other yeast infections in the vagina and mouth are very common in female diabetics. An overgrowth of candida fungus in women is caused by excess sugar escaping in the urine and as women's genitals are more prone to thrush than men's.

Symptoms of thrush are painful, cracked skin, redness, itching, and a cottage cheese type discharge. Thrush can occur orally too creating a sore tongue with white and red patches.

Diabetic women are at higher risk of developing urinary tract infections because poor circulation often associated with diabetes prevents white blood cells traveling to affected areas to kill the infection.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, known as PCOS, occurs when a higher amount of male androgen hormones are produced, leading to cysts on the ovaries. As well as causing weight gain, acne, and irregular painful periods PCOS can create insulin resistance. This means that blood sugar builds up, in some cases leading to type 2 diabetes.

Researchers believe that menstruation and menopause have an effect on diabetes because they create fluctuating levels of oestrogen and progesterone. Insulin is also a hormone, and it can be affected by these changes leading to unstable blood sugar levels and more difficulty controlling diabetes.

Fluctuating blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage and disinterest in sex, difficulty becoming aroused and pain during sex which is called Female Sexual Dysfunction. Higher than normal blood sugar levels can lead to a decrease in natural vaginal lubrication too, making sex uncomfortable.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes only occurs in some pregnant women. Women's hormones change to adapt to her growing baby and that means the insulin needs to alter too. This can lead to a type of temporary diabetes called gestational diabetes. It can usually be managed with dietary changes and often goes away after birth, but in some cases will remain.

Women with gestational diabetes, and their babies, are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in later life.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes Mellitus is a life-long condition that requires management through diet, exercise and often with medication too.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) places the blame with poor lifestyle choices for the increase of type 2 diabetes - particularly the increase of type 2 diabetes in children. According to the World Health Organisation around 8.5% of the world's population now has diabetes.

Diabetes Mellitus occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas to convert sugar from blood into energy called glucose that we use as fuel. If you do not have enough insulin your cells cannot take in glucose for energy. Instead, the sugar in your blood builds up until it is too high and causes serious health complications.

All types of diabetes are serious and need management. If left untreated it can lead to complications of the heart, kidneys, eyes, blood vessels and nerves.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Approximately 10% of people with diabetes have type 1.

It's not well understood, but it's thought to be an autoimmune disease rather than caused by lifestyle choices. The most recent research suggests that type 1 diabetes is an inherited trait triggered by an environmental factor such as a virus.

The immune system of diabetics with type 1 diabetes attacks parts of the body that make the hormone insulin. This prevents your body from making any insulin. Without insulin, serious health consequences develop so patients are dependent on injections on a regular basis to manage their blood sugar.

What is Type 2 Diabetes?

It's thought 90% of the diabetic population has type 2 and studies show that over 50% of these cases could have been slowed or avoided through a healthier lifestyle.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are too high because you don't make enough insulin to unlock the glucose as energy, or your body has lost the ability to respond to insulin, this is known as 'insulin resistance'.

The risk factors for type 2 diabetes include your ethnic background, age, family history, a history of gestational diabetes and being overweight or obese.

What's the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

The main difference is that type 1 diabetes is not preventable whereas type 2 can be avoided in some cases. Avoiding type 2 diabetes means managing your weight. If your BMI is in the overweight or obese category, you're at increased risk.

Losing weight makes a big difference to your health and lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes. Eat a sensible low-fat diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Avoid fizzy drinks and shop bought coffees that are full of calories. Lowering your consumption of alcohol can help as it is highly calorific.

Take regular exercise to burn off excess calories and drink lots of water. If you are struggling to plan meals or lose weight ask your doctor if you can make an eating plan with a dietician or clinic nurse.

Who gets diabetes?

The majority of diabetics are type 2, it's the most common type of diabetes mellitus in adults and often slowly develops over a period of time.

Type 1 diabetes used to be called juvenile diabetes because it often affects children. It's still the main type of diabetes in children, but more are developing type 2 as a result of their lifestyle.

Difference in treatment for type 1 and type 2 diabetes

  • Treatment for type 1 diabetes involves regular injections of insulin throughout the day. Because type 1 diabetics produce no insulin they need regular synthetic insulin to process their blood sugar. This can be done manually or through a pump. Modern techniques are making it easier for type 1 diabetics to manage their condition, which is particularly helpful in childhood diabetes.
  • Type 2 diabetes can be managed through diet and exercise in most cases, but as the condition progresses medication may be need to manage increasing symptoms.

Is diabetes in adults the same as diabetes in children?

A child with type 1 diabetes will have broadly the same symptoms as an adult with type 1, and the same applies for type 2 diabetes.

One difference is that children are more likely to develop insulin dependent type 1 diabetes, whereas adults are more likely to have type 2 diabetes, which can be often be managed through diet without the need for medications.

Although traditionally children are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes there's a growing trend of children developing type 2. Experts believe the obesity crisis is to blame for the emergence of type 2 diabetes in children.

Emotional Strain

Children with diabetes may have a harder time accepting the need to manage blood sugar indefinitely, and may fight against treatment they need as they grow older.

Teenagers for example may want to experiment with alcohol which can disrupt blood sugar levels. This can mean diabetic young adults feel isolated from their peers and experience mental health issues, or they do not manage their blood sugar well enough to avoid complications.

Progressive Diabetes

Diabetes is a progressive disease and doctors think that children diagnosed early may suffer more health complications throughout their lives than adults who develop diabetes later, simply because they have had it a long time.

The difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes lies chiefly with the treatment needed to manage high blood sugar, however, we are all individuals that need a measured and specific approach to healthcare.

If you think you may have diabetes or you have any of the symptoms speak to your doctor because if left untreated it can have serious consequences.

Last Updated: 04.04.2018