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Medical News Today: Type 2 diabetes: Symptoms, early signs, and complications

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age, although it is more common in middle-aged and older adults. But what are the early signs and symptoms of this condition?

Type 2 diabetes results in high blood sugar levels and is believed to affect 29.1 million Americans. It accounts for up to 95 percent of all diabetes cases, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In this article, we explore the early signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes. We also look at the associated risk factors and potential complications of the condition.

What is type 2 diabetes?

thirsty lady
Some symptoms of type 2 diabetes may include fatigue, increased hunger, and increased thirst.

People with type 2 diabetes do not make or use insulin correctly. Insulin is a hormone that regulates movement of blood glucose (sugar) into cells. Blood glucose is the body’s source of energy and comes from food.

When sugar cannot enter cells, it builds up and the body is unable to rely on it for energy. If the body is unable to get glucose, the result is symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

A doctor may suspect diabetes if a person’s blood sugar levels are above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes

There are a number of symptoms of type 2 diabetes that people should be aware of. Awareness of these may help them get advice and a possible diagnosis. The sooner someone with type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, the sooner they can begin treatment to manage the condition.

Symptoms include the following:

  • Frequent urination and increased thirst: When excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream, fluid is pulled from the body’s tissues. Excessive thirst occurs, causing people with type 2 diabetes to drink and urinate more.
  • Increased hunger: In type 2 diabetes the body does not have enough insulin to send glucose to cells. This means the muscles and organs are depleted of energy, resulting in increased hunger.
  • Weight loss: Insufficient insulin forces the body to start burning fat and muscle for energy. This causes weight loss.
  • Fatigue: When cells are left without enough glucose, the body becomes tired. Fatigue is one of the most debilitating diabetes symptoms, because it interferes with daily life.
  • Blurred vision: If blood glucose is too high, fluid may be pulled from the lenses of the eyes, causing swelling. Blurred vision is generally temporary, but it does affect the ability to see clearly.
  • Infections and sores: Type 2 diabetes slows recovery time from infections and sores. People with this type of diabetes take longer to heal because blood circulation is poor and they may have other nutritional deficits.

Symptoms in children

Type 2 diabetes often affects children who are:

  • female
  • οverweight
  • ainsulin resistant
  • American-Indian, African-American, Hispanic or Latino, or Asian

Children may experience the following symptoms:

  • weight loss despite increased appetite and hunger
  • extreme thirst and dry mouth
  • frequent urination and urinary tract infections
  • fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • slow healing of cuts
  • numbness or tingling in hands and feet
  • itchy skin

Parents who notice type 2 diabetes symptoms should bring these to the attention of a child’s doctor immediately.

Symptoms in older adults

At least 25.9 percent of seniors (those aged 65 and older) in the U.S. are diabetic, and they may have some or all the classic symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, they may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • 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

Early signs

cut on the skin
A classic early symptom of diabetes may be a cut that takes a long time to heal.

Most people do not experience symptoms early on and may not have symptoms for many years.

A possible early sign of type 2 diabetes is darkened skin on certain areas of the body, including:

  • the neck
  • the elbows
  • the knees
  • the knuckles

Some classic early symptoms of diabetes include:

  • frequent bladder, kidney, or skin infections
  • cuts that take longer to heal
  • fatigue
  • extreme hunger
  • increased thirst
  • urinary frequency
  • blurred vision

After years of having subtle symptoms, a person’s symptoms will become more obvious and result in further health problems.

Prediabetes and diabetes prevention

Prediabetes is indicated by slightly elevated blood glucose levels and is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

One 2016 report published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine looked at a 2012 survey of people aged 45 and older and found 33.6 percent had prediabetes. Despite the fact these people had prediabetes, there were no notes in their medical charts regarding recommendations of lifestyle modifications and no prescribed medications.

The CDC report that at least 86 million American adults have prediabetes. Most of these are willing to talk to their doctors about diabetes prevention.

A 2016 study from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago explored how adults with prediabetes viewed the risk for diabetes development. It also looked at their attitudes towards potential opportunities to prevent diabetes.

Many of the people questioned had misjudged risk factors and were not familiar with lifestyle modifications and treatment options. However, they were open to discuss prevention opportunities.

Diabetes complications

lady holding head in hands
Feeling dizzy and faint may be a symptom of hypoglycemia.

Diabetes may cause a number of health complications if not managed properly.

Some of these can be serious, and they can mean a person needs emergency medical attention. Others are more long-term and of less immediate concern.

Emergency complications

If blood glucose dips below 70 mg/dl, it is called hypoglycemia. A home blood glucose test can check for hypoglycemia.

Early recognition of hypoglycemia is vital as very low blood glucose levels may cause seizures and could put someone in a coma.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • heart palpitations
  • rapid heartbeat
  • mood changes
  • loss of consciousness
  • sweating
  • clamminess

Hypoglycemia can be self-treated if symptoms are mild. Eating a snack with about 15 grams (g) of glucose may help. Examples include:

  • a few pieces of hard candy
  • a cup of orange juice
  • a teaspoon of honey

Blood glucose tablets can bring up sugar levels as well.

A person should go to the emergency room immediately if blood glucose remains dangerously low for more than 1 hour, and after they have consumed glucose and taken medication.

Frequent and severe hypoglycemic episodes should be brought to the attention of a doctor.

Long-term complications

Controlling blood glucose can prevent complications. While long-term complications are slow developing, they 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

Diagnosis and treatment

People should see their doctor as soon as they start experiencing any of the above symptoms. A doctor can diagnose type 2 diabetes with blood tests that measure blood glucose levels.

The goal of treatment is to lower high blood glucose levels and prevent complications. There are a number of factors that help normalize blood glucose levels, including:

  • a healthful diet
  • physical activity
  • other lifestyle changes
  • medications
  • insulin injections

Outlook

Although diabetes cannot be cured, most people with diabetes are able to lead healthful lives by managing their condition properly.

People who lose weight and are active may not need medication. This is because, at ideal weight, the body’s insulin, and a person’s healthful diet choices, should control blood glucose levels.

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