Are you worried that you, your child or someone you know, may have diabetes?
Having some of the signs of diabetes doesn’t mean you definitely have the condition, but you should always contact your GP, just to make sure.
The common symptoms of diabetes
- Going to the toilet a lot, especially at night.
- Being really thirsty.
- Feeling more tired than usual.
- Losing weight without trying to.
- Genital itching or thrush.
- Cuts and wounds take longer to heal.
- Blurred vision.
Although the majority of people with Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed in childhood and early adulthood, the symptoms are the same at any age.
Adults diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes may not recognise their symptoms as quickly as children, which in turn will prove detrimental as diagnosis then treatment may be delayed.
The 4 Ts campaign (see below) describes the symptoms to recognise in children; however, these will match symptoms in adults and could include a further ‘T’, Thrush.
High levels of glucose being passed in the urine are a perfect breeding ground for the fungal infection which cause thrush.
Type 1 diabetes – Symptoms
The symptoms of type 1 diabetes can develop very quickly (over a few days or weeks), particularly in children.
In older adults, the symptoms can often take longer to develop (a few months).
However, they should disappear when you start taking insulin and the condition is under control.
The main symptoms of diabetes are:
- feeling very thirsty
- urinating more frequently than usual, particularly at night
- feeling very tired
- weight loss and loss of muscle bulk
- itchiness around the genital area, or regular bouts of thrush (a yeast infection)
- blurred vision caused by the lens of your eye changing shape
- slow healing of cuts and grazes
Vomiting or heavy, deep breathing can also occur at a later stage.
This is a dangerous sign and requires immediate admission to hospital for treatment.
When to seek urgent medical attention
You should seek urgent medical attention if you have diabetes and develop:
- a loss of appetite
- nausea or vomiting
- a high temperature
- stomach pain
- fruity smelling breath – which may smell like pear drops or nail varnish (others will usually be able to smell it, but you won’t)
Hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose)
If you have diabetes, your blood glucose levels can become very low.
This is known as hypoglycaemia (or a “hypo”), and it’s triggered when injected insulin in your body moves too much glucose out of your bloodstream.
In most cases, hypoglycaemia occurs as a result of taking too much insulin, although it can also develop if you skip a meal, exercise very vigorously or drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
Symptoms of a “hypo” include:
- feeling shaky and irritable
- tingling lips
- feeling weak
- feeling confused
- nausea (feeling sick)
A hypo can be brought under control simply by eating or drinking something sugary.
If it isn’t brought under control, a hypo can cause confusion, slurred speech and eventually unconsciousness.
In this case, an emergency injection of a hormone called glucagon will be needed. Glucagon increases the glucose in your blood.
Hyperglycaemia (high blood glucose)
As people with type 1 diabetes cannot produce any insulin, their blood glucose levels may become very high.
When your blood glucose levels become too high, it’s known as hyperglycaemia.
The symptoms of hyperglycaemia may come on suddenly and include:
- extreme thirst
- a dry mouth
- blurred vision
- a need to pass urine frequently
Left untreated, hyperglycaemia can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a serious condition where the body breaks down fat and muscle as an alternative source of energy.
This leads to a build-up of acids in your blood, which can cause vomiting, dehydration, unconsciousness and even death.
Type 2 diabetes – Symptoms
The symptoms of diabetes include feeling very thirsty, passing more urine than usual, and feeling tired all the time.
The symptoms occur because some or all of the glucose stays in your blood and isn’t used as fuel for energy. Your body tries to get rid of the excess glucose in your urine.
The main symptoms, which are common to both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, are:
- urinating more often than usual, particularly at night
- feeling very thirsty
- feeling very tired
- unexplained weight loss
- itching around the penis or vagina, or frequent episodes of thrush
- cuts or wounds that heal slowly
- blurred vision – caused by the lens of the eye becoming dry
The signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes are usually obvious and develop very quickly, often over a few weeks.
These signs and symptoms aren’t always as obvious, however, and it’s often diagnosed during a routine check-up.
This is because they are often mild and develop gradually over a number of years. This means you may have type 2 diabetes for many years without realising it.
See your GP as soon as possible if you think you may have diabetes. Early diagnosis and treatment for type 2 diabetes is very important as it may reduce your risk of developing complications later on.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach, can’t produce enough insulin to control your blood glucose level, or when the cells in your body don’t respond properly to the insulin that is produced.
This means your blood glucose levels may become very high, and is known as hyperglycaemia.
Hyperglycaemia can occur for several reasons, including:
- eating too much
- being unwell
- ineffective diabetes medication, or not taking enough
Hyperglycaemia causes the main symptoms of diabetes, which include extreme thirst and frequent urination.