Type 2 diabetes is essentially a problem making or responding to the hormone insulin. This leads to two major changes in the body: elevated levels of blood sugar and difficulty providing adequate nutrition to body cells. The symptoms that occur are secondary to these changes. If any of the following symptoms occur, you may want to consult a doctor to be tested for type 2 diabetes:
-- Extreme hunger
-- Weight loss
-- Increased thirst and frequent urination
-- Blurred vision
-- Slow-healing sores or frequent infections
-- Erectile dysfunction
Type 2 diabetes does not always cause obvious symptoms so someone can have it for years without knowing. Unfortunately, many people do not find out they have diabetes until debilitating complications develop.
What are the short term-complications of type 2 diabetes?
People with type 2 diabetes are prone to developing acute complications, which come on fast and may have grave health consequences if they are not treated quickly. Some of the most common of these are described below.
Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when lack of insulin causes cells to starve for want of sugars. In this case, the liver will break down fats into small molecules called ketone bodies and release them into the bloodstream in an attempt to feed the tissues. Ketone bodies are acids so too many of them makes the blood pH decline. The symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fever, stomach pain and a sweet, fruity smell on your breath caused by the ketones. This is a potentially dangerous condition and can lead to a medical emergency: if untreated, it can progress to unconsciousness and coma, even death. Contact a doctor immediately if any of these symptoms occur.
Hyperglycemia or high blood sugar can occur when you eat too much sugar or when not enough insulin is either released or received to clear the sugar from the blood. To avoid this, diabetics should check their blood sugar level often and watch for symptoms of hyperglycemia that include: frequent urination, increased thirst, dry mouth, blurred vision, fatigue, and nausea. If untreated, hyperglycemia can lead to more serious complications. If you experience the above symptoms, or if your blood sugar level is always above 250 mg/dL, consult your doctor right away or seek emergency care.
If your blood sugar level drops too low, it is called hypoglycemia. This can be caused by skipping a meal, by increased physical activity, or simply as a side effect of your medication. You can prevent this by regularly checking blood sugar levels and watching out for the symptoms, which include sweating, shakiness, weakness, hunger, dizziness, and nausea. If left untreated, later signs of hypoglycemia include slurred speech, drowsiness, and confusion and eventually, unconsciousness. To treat hypoglycemia, eat or drink something that will quickly raise your blood sugar level (like fruit juice). You may want to contact your doctor to discuss how you best to avoid hypoglycemia in the future.
What are the long-term complications of type 2 diabetes?
Living with type 2 diabetes can cause serious chronic complications that can significantly shorten the lives of diabetics. These complications develop over long periods of time and are mostly due to chronically elevated levels of sugar in the blood. Controlling blood sugar levels reduces the risks of developing all of these complications so if you are a diabetic, monitoring your blood sugar and keeping the level as close to normal as possible is critical.
Heart disease and stroke
People with type 2 diabetes tend to have high blood pressure and elevated blood cholesterol, both of which increase their risk of developing vascular diseases such as coronary artery disease. Chronically elevated blood sugar also tends to cause poor circulation, leading to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
The kidney's job is to clean the blood and they perform this job several times each day. When the blood contains high levels of sugar, it makes the kidney's job much harder. High blood sugar raises the blood pressure in the kidneys and can lead to reduced kidney function and even chronic renal failure. In fact, diabetes is by far the leading cause of kidney failure in America.
One of the most common complications of diabetes is diabetic neuropathy. Neuropathy is damage to the nerves and it can occur throughout the body, often caused by poor circulation. The nerve damage can cause tingling or numbness, often in the extremities, or conversely, chronic pain.
Poor circulation and nerve damage in the feet can lead to serious complications for diabetics. When the protective pain sensations are lost, diabetics can injury their feet without realizing it. Reduced circulation impairs the foot's ability to heal and the result can be chronic infections requiring amputation.
People with diabetes are more prone to skin infections than the general population. Reduced circulation in the skin makes infection more likely and also impairs wound healing; this makes any skin injury much more serious. Luckily, most skin problems can be treated easily if they are caught early.
The retina is the portion of the eye that receives and processes visual images. Having high blood glucose and high blood pressure for a long time can damage the tiny blood vessels that supply the retina. Reduced retinal blood flow can cause blurred vision and over time, blood can begin to leak out of the weakened blood vessels, preventing light from reaching the retina. This causes visual impairments and can also permanently damage the retina itself, leading to blindness.
Stomach problems: gastroparesis
Damage to the vagus nerve caused by high blood sugar can lead to gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach holds onto its contents for too long. Normally, the vagus nerve signals the stomach to contract and expel its contents into the small intestine. When food stays in the stomach too long, it leads to uncomfortable symptoms like acid reflux, nausea, and vomiting.
Continued on page 3: What causes type 2 diabetes?