Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Normally, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that helps deliver glucose throughout the body and the brain. In a person with diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce insulin on its own, or it has trouble using insulin as it should. So, people with diabetes need help stabilizing their blood sugar levels.

Know the types

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

Prediabetes

Gestational Diabetes

Warning signs

There are several symptoms that, when found in combination, might indicate a developing case of diabetes. Some people with diabetes have no symptoms.

If you are experiencing any or all of the problems listed below, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have diabetes. It means that it’s a good time to see your healthcare provider and discuss your symptoms. They may recommend a test to check for diabetes.

  • Increased thirst
  • Hunger after eating
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands or feet

Effects on the body

Just as every human body is unique, diabetes behaves slightly differently in everyone who has it. Its effects can also change as a person’s health profile changes following fluctuations in weight, dietary patterns, exercise routines, medication regimens, and other factors. The following are some of the health concerns most often seen in people with diabetes.

Cardiovascular disease

Diabetes can be a serious risk factor for heart disease and stroke due to diminished elasticity in the blood vessels, which can slow the flow of blood through the body.

Nerve problems

When blood vessels deliver less oxygen to the nerves, the nerves can become damaged — a condition called “neuropathy” (or “peripheral neuropathy” when it happens in the limbs). This condition can cause pain and numbness, especially in the arms, legs, feet, and toes. Signs of neuropathy can crop up years after a diabetes diagnosis.

Kidney issues

Diabetes is one of the most common causes of kidney disease and kidney failure. The high glucose levels damage the blood vessels in the kidneys.

Eye/vision concerns

Eye damage — again, the result of damage to blood vessels due to high glucose levels — can be a complication of diabetes, as can blurred and double vision.

Foot problems

Peripheral neuropathy can make it harder to feel heat, cold, or even pain in the feet. This makes people with diabetes more susceptible to foot injuries and damage. Plus, reduced blood flow can also slow the healing process.

Skin conditions

Dry skin is a common concern among people with diabetes. Dryness can lead to cracking and peeling, which makes people more vulnerable to skin infections.

Hearing impairment

Studies show that people with diabetes are twice as susceptible to hearing loss as people who don’t have diabetes. More research is needed to identify the exact reasons why this is true, but the damage that diabetes does to small blood vessels is thought to be the cause.

What puts you at risk?

There are many things that can make a person more vulnerable to type 2 diabetes. Some (such as exercise habits and weight) are manageable, while others (such as family history and ethnicity) are not. Having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean you’ll develop diabetes. However, it can be helpful to know what healthcare providers look for when they’re screening for diabetes.

  • Parents and/or siblings with diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • High blood pressure
  • A history of gestational diabetes or delivering an infant weighing more than nine pounds
  • A history of polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Certain ethnicities. According to the American Diabetes Association, the rates of diagnosed diabetes within the following communities are:

15.1%

Native Americans / Alaskan Natives

12.7%

Non-Hispanic Black People

12.1%

Hispanics

8.0%

Asian Americans

7.4%

Non-Hispanic White people

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