The most prevalent form of diabetes is type 2 diabetes. It occurs when blood sugar levels are rising due to insulin use or production problems.
It may occur at any age but it is more likely to happen after 45 years of age.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it affects more than 30 million Americans, and accounts for 90–95 percent of cases of diabetes.
This article discusses the early signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes, the risk factors and the possible complications involved.
What is type 2 diabetes?
People with type 2 diabetes do not make or use insulin correctly.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates the movement of blood glucose, or sugar, into cells, which use it as energy.
When sugar cannot enter cells, this means:
- too much glucose collects in the blood
- the body’s cells cannot use it for energy
A doctor may diagnose diabetes if a person’s blood sugar levels are 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) or above after fasting for 8 hours.
High blood sugar signs of type 2 diabetes tend to show up slowly. In the early stages not everybody with type 2diabetes will have symptoms.
If a person has symptoms they will consider the following:
- Frequent urination and increased thirst: When excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream, the body will extract fluid from tissues. This can lead to excessive thirst and the need to drink and urinate more.
- Increased hunger: In type 2 diabetes, the cells are not able to access glucose for energy. The muscles and organs will be low on energy, and the person may feel more hungry than usual.
- Weight loss: When there is too little insulin, the body may start burning fat and muscle for energy. This causes weight loss.
- Fatigue: When cells lack glucose, the body becomes tired. Fatigue can interfere with daily life when a person has type 2 diabetes.
- Blurred vision: High blood glucose can cause fluid to be pulled from the lenses of the eyes, resulting in swelling, leading to temporarily blurred vision.
- Infections and sores: It takes longer to recover from infections and sores because blood circulation is poor and there may be other nutritional deficits.
If those signs are found, they should see a doctor. Diabetes may cause a series of serious complications. The earlier a person starts to control their level of glucose, the greater the chance they have of avoiding complications.
Symptoms in children and teens
Type 2 diabetes is more likely to appear after the age of 45 years, but it can affect children and teens who:
- have excess weight
- do not do much physical activity
- have high blood pressure
- have a family history of type 2 diabetes
- have an African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, or American Indian background
The following symptoms may occur:
- weight loss, despite increased appetite and hunger
- extreme thirst and dry mouth
- frequent urination and urinary tract infections
- blurred vision
- slow healing of cuts or wounds
- numbness or tingling in hands and feet
- itchy skin
When carers note these signs, the child should be brought to see a doctor. Those are also type 1 diabetes signs. Type 1 is less common than adults but more likely to affect children and adolescents. Type 2 diabetes, however, is becoming more common among young people than it was in the past.
Symptoms in older adults
In the United States, at least 25.2 percent of people aged 65 and over have type 2 diabetes. We can experience some or all of the typical Type 2 diabetes symptoms.
They may also come across one or more of the following:
- flu-like fatigue, which includes feeling lethargic and chronically weak
- urinary tract infections
- numbness and tingling in the hands, arms, legs, and feet due to circulation and nerve damage
- dental problems, including infections of the mouth and red, inflamed gums
In the early stages, most people don’t experience symptoms, and they may not have symptoms for many years.
One possible early symptom of type 2 diabetes on certain areas of the body is darkened skin, including:
- the neck
- the elbows
- the knees
- the knuckles
This is known as acanthosis nigricans.
Other early symptoms include:
- frequent bladder, kidney, or skin infections
- cuts that take longer to heal
- extreme hunger
- increased thirst
- urinary frequency
- blurred vision
A person may have mild or subtle symptoms for many years, but these can become in time. Further health problems can develop.
Prediabetes and diabetes prevention
A person with 100–125 mg / dl blood sugar levels will get prediabetes diagnosis. It means they have high blood sugar levels but they have no diabetes. At this stage taking action will prevent the development of diabetes.
In 2012, 33.6 percent of people aged 45 years and older had prediabetes, according to a 2016 study published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
The CDC estimates that there are about 84 million American adults who have prediabetes, but most of them do not know they do.
Diabetes can cause a number of problems in your health if people don’t treat it properly. Many of these are chronic, or long-term, but they can endanger life. Others need immediate medical attention once it occurs.
Complications can arise quickly if blood sugar rises or falls too far.
This is hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, if the blood glucose drops below 70 mg / dl.
This can occur when a person who uses insulin takes more than they need for a given time.
Hypoglycemia can be tested for by a home blood glucose examination.
Understanding the early signs of hypoglycemia is important since it can escalate quickly, leading to seizures and a coma. However it is easy to treat in the early stages.
The hypoglycemic signs include:
- feeling faint
- heart palpitations
- rapid heartbeat
- mood changes
- loss of consciousness
If symptoms are mild, a person can often resolve low blood sugar levels by consuming:
- a few pieces of hard candy
- a cup of orange juice
- a teaspoon of honey
- a glucose tablet
The person should then wait 15 minutes to check their blood sugar, and should take another glucose tablet or sweet one if it is still weak.
The person will eat a meal when the levels return to above 70 mg / dl, to regulate their glucose levels.
If for 1 hour or longer they remain low, or if symptoms worsen, somebody should take the person to the emergency room.
Anyone with regular or serious symptoms of hypoglycemia should talk to their doctor, as they may need to change their treatment plan.
Hyperglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)
Hyperglycemia will result if the blood sugar levels rise too far. If a person experiences heightened thirst and urination, blood sugar levels should be tested.
It the level is above the target level recommended by their doctor, they are taking appropriate action.
High an individual with hyperglycemia can develop diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) without medication, which occurs when high levels of ketones accumulate in the blood making it too acidic. The person should check their ketone levels, too, for this purpose.
Ketoacidosis can induce:
- difficulty breathing
- a fruity smell on the breath
- a dry mouth
- nausea and vomiting
It can be life-threatening. A person with these signs and symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
People who regularly experience high blood sugar should speak to their doctor about adjusting their treatment plan.
Maintaining blood glucose within target thresholds can avoid problems that over time can become life-threatening and disabling.
Some possible complications of diabetes are:
- heart and blood vessel diseases
- high blood pressure
- nerve damage (neuropathy)
- foot damage
- eye damage and blindness
- kidney disease
- hearing problems
- skin problems
Effective management of blood glucose levels can reduce the risk of complications
Diagnosis and treatment
Type 2 diabetes can be treated with blood tests that measure blood glucose levels. Many people discover that during a regular screening test they have high blood sugar, but anyone noticing the symptoms should see a doctor.
Therapy aims at maintaining healthy blood glucose levels and avoiding complications. The key ways of doing so are by steps to lifestyle.
- following a healthful diet
- reaching and maintaining a healthy weight and body mass index (BMI)
- doing physical activity
- getting enough sleep
- avoiding or quitting smoking
- taking medications or insulin as the doctor recommends
There is currently no cure for diabetes but by treating their condition correctly, most people with the condition can live a healthy life.
People who keep their weight balanced, follow a healthy diet, and do regular exercise may not need medication. These measures can aid in regulating blood sugar levels.
In the early stages, routine monitoring will alert a person to high blood sugar levels when there is still time to slow, avoid or reverse diabetes progression.
Current guidelines recommend regular screening starting at age 45, or younger if an individual has other risk factors, such as obesity. A health care professional may consult on individual needs.
If my teenage son is very thirsty and urinating a lot mor than before, is this likely to be type 1 or type 2 diabetes?
A sudden onset of symptoms would most likely suggest type 1 diabetes. However, the incidence of type 2 diabetes is increasing in children and teenagers. While it may be other causes, the seriousness of diabetes requires a physician should be consulted immediately.Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA
Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.