Click to view diabetic complications...

The food we eat is converted into glucose (suger) which is used by our bodies for energy. The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin which helps cells assimulate glucose. Glucose and insulin are circulated to all parts of our body within our blood. When you have diabetes, your cells can't get enough glucose; this occurs either because your body doesn't have enough insulin or it can't use insulin very well because your cells have built up a resistance to insulin. This problem results in excessive glucose in your blood which causes premature aging of your cardiovascular system, kidneys, eyes, and immune system. This premature aging leads to what are called diabetic complications which include heart and kidney disease, stroke, poor circulation, difficulty walking or exercising, vision and nerve damage; all of which get worse with poor blood glucose control, stress, and increasing age and obesity.

Overall, treating diabetes involves controlling your diet, exercising, managing your response to stress, monitoring your blood glucose to avoid low and high levels, monitoring your blood pressure, and initiating other regular tests to check on how well your diabetes is being controlled.

Common symptoms of diabetes...

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme fatigue and weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Abdominal pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid weight loss or gain
  • Skin infections
  • Impotence
  • Fluid retention (especially in legs and feet)
  • Poor healing of skin wounds
  • Decreased tolerance to cold
  • Chronic itching
  • Irregular or rapid heart rate
  • Dry scaly skin
  • Numbness or tingling of fingers and toes
  • Extreme hunger pangs
  • Hot and sweaty with clammy perspiration
  • Heart tremors and palpitations
  • Apprehensive with no obvious reason
  • Shaky and nervous
  • Disoriented, confused, inability to concentrate
  • Frequent headaches, dizziness
  • Mood changes, irritability

Causes of common diabetic symptoms...

All diabetic symptoms are related to chronically high levels of glucose in the blood, which causes the premature aging of all body parts. So all diabetic symptoms can be explained in terms of what happens to the body as it ages. The branch of science that studies the aging process is called Gerontology and much of what happens to people with uncontrolled diabetes can be explained therein. I certainly don't know what causes the symptoms of diabetes in detail, I simply don't have the medical training; but I can give a brief overview of my layman understanding of what the causes are of some of the common symptoms.

Symptom Cause
Thirst and frequent urination
Our kidneys filter out unused glucose from your blood; excessive levels spill into the urine taking water with it, hence the need to drink and urinate more.
Extreme hunger, fatigue and weight loss Extreme hunger, fatigue and weight loss are all related to the same cause: body cells need energy to function, energy is provided by glucose metabolized from the food we eat and circulated to our cells in our blood. Insulin is needed by cells to enable the entry of glucose. In type 1 diabetes, the body simply doesn't produce insulin, so glucose can't get into cells; in type 2 diabetes, enough insulin is being produced (at least initially) but cells have developed a resistance to insulin, so again not enough glucose gets into cells. This results in feelings of hunger and fatigue, even though enough food is being eaten, because body cells simply are not getting any energy; weight loss is also a direct result of the lack of cell nutrition.
Headaches, dizziness, irritability Our brain needs a constant supply of energy, if brain cells don't receive enough energy, we become tired; most tired people tend to be less tolerant and more irritable!
Dry itchy skin Healthy skin cells require gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which our body makes via a complex metabolic process. In older people and diabetics, this process is impaired and not enough GLA is produced; this results is chronic, severely dry and itchy skin. This condition is aggravated by soaps, detergents, hot baths, and environmental conditions; it is usually worse during the winter months and most commonly affects legs, feet, and hands but can affect all areas of the body.
Blurred vision Blurred vision is a sign of diabetic retinopathy that affects all diabetics. It is frequently one of the first signs of diabetes. Again the culprit is high levels of glucose within the blood; chronically high levels of glucose damage blood vessels in different organs of the body, usually starting with the retina of the eye and the kidneys; eventually some blood vessels are lost and remaining ones become "leaky" which allow blood and fat to seep out of damaged blood vessels. This makes the retina bleed and swell which causes blurry vision
Tingling/burning pain in the feet Tingling/burning pain in the feet is usually the first sign of diabetic neuropathy which is the degeneration of peripheral nerve fibers throughout the body which commonly leads to a lack of feeling in the feet, advances up the legs and then the hands and is the most common reason for lower limb amputations. It can also be very painful. Loss of motor nerve fibers cause muscular weakness. Loss of sensory nerve fibers can cause loss of feeling. Loss of autonomic fibers cause the loss of functions not normally under conscious control like digestion, heartbeat, blood pressure, and sweating. Neuropathy symptoms like prickling, tingling, burning, aching, or sharp jabs of needlelike pain can also be caused by nerves that are damaged or are healing. We don't know what causes diabetic neuropathy, but chronically high blood glucose levels seem to play a major role.

What to do next...

If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, a family history of diabetes, or are aged 45 or above, contact your doctor or healthcare professional and initiate blood and urine tests for diabetes.

Updated: March 9, 2003