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Understanding Symptoms of Diabetes

Content by: NCES, Inc. and Jamie Rinaldi, MS, RDN

Diabetes Mellitus impacts nearly 21M people! Knowing the signs and symptoms can significantly improve diagnosis rates and treatment to prevent long-term complications. Read More...

Understanding Symptoms of Diabetes


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According to the American Diabetes Association, Diabetes Mellitus, simply referred to as diabetes, has become an epidemic. The condition affects about twenty-one million Americans! Unfortunately, more than 30% of that twenty-one million are undiagnosed and don’t realize they have it.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot produce enough insulin or is unable to utilize it effectively, termed insulin resistance. Insulin allows the body to use glucose (AKA blood sugar) for energy or to store it for later use. In absence of adequate insulin, or insulin resistance, glucose levels build up to higher than normal levels in the blood. This is called hyperglycemia.

Common symptoms include frequent urination, increased thirst, and blurred vision. Over time, this excess of sugar in the blood can lead to a multitude of chronic health conditions, such as blindness, nerve damage, unintended weight loss, and kidney failure.

Hypoglycemia is defined as lower than normal blood glucose levels. Causes of hypoglycemia are inadequate carbohydrate intake combined with blood glucose-lowering medication or insulin treatment, excessive exercise, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The most prevalent symptoms are shakiness, irritability, hunger, anxiety, and sweating. Severe hypoglycemia can lead to seizures, comas, and in rare cases, death.

Diabetes can be diagnosed with simple blood testing. The physician will check the hemoglobin A1C, which measures glycemic control over the past 3 months, or fasting blood sugars. Another test, less frequently used, is the oral glucose tolerance test. For this test, the individual fasts for 8 hours, then
drinks a beverage loaded with sugar. Two hours later, the blood glucose level is read.

Quick Tips!

In many cases, diabetes can be managed with diet alone. Once a diagnosis of diabetes is made, it is vital that the physician’s treatment plan is followed to prevent symptoms or complications of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia.

Download the attached Infographic.

Next Steps!

It's never too late to begin healthy habits!
1. Maintain a healthy weight.
2. Follow a healthful diet, containing a balance of high fiber fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, dairy products, and healthy fats.
3. Check blood sugar regularly and keep a log to identify any patterns, e.g. a time of day when it is typically abnormal or in relation to what food has been consumed.
4. Exercise regularly.
5. Take medications as prescribed.
6. Avoid sugar-laden beverages such as soda and fruit punch. Drink water instead!
7. Make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian to get individualized recommendations.

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