Learn the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, what causes it, and how to take action and regain control of your life.
Of the more than 30 million Americans who have diabetes, one in four don’t realize they have it. That means not enough people realize that the difficulties they’re living with are part of something bigger.
Considering that 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes cases are type 2, it’s most important to understand and watch for the signs of this condition. Whereas type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin properly, type 2 diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to use insulin properly.
Cells fail to respond to insulin the way they should, and so the pancreas goes into overdrive, producing more insulin to try to fix the problem. Over time, that leads to high blood sugar, heart disease, kidney disease, and other problems.
While 14 years old is the peak age to be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, your chance of having type 2 diabetes increases at the age of 45. With the growing number of afflicted Americans, the need for early detection is greater than ever.
Fortunately, you don’t need to wait for your kidney to fail to know that something is wrong. Here are some early symptoms of type 2 diabetes, their causes, and what you can do to start fighting back. The sooner you know, the sooner you can take action and regain control of your life.
If you find yourself making more and more frequent trips to the bathroom, it could be a sign of things to come. When your pancreas overproduces insulin, it causes your blood sugar levels to increase. And too much blood sugar makes your kidneys work even harder to process all of the sugar. When your kidneys just aren’t able to handle the load, your body expels the leftover sugar through your urine. In its rush to get rid of that sugar, though, your body also dehydrates itself. So if you find yourself waking up frequently at night just to urinate and feeling dehydrated and sapped of energy, be sure to bring it up with your physician or your functional medicine doctor.
Tied to frequent urination, you may notice that you’re thirstier than ever. Polydipsia is a condition consisting of excessive thirst and dryness of the mouth that persists regardless of how much water you drink. Should your thirst continue for days while you are passing more than five liters of urine daily, schedule a meeting with your physician.
Sudden Weight Loss
Diabetes is linked to excess weight in the public consciousness. While it’s true that being overweight makes you more susceptible to type 2 diabetes, sudden and significant weight loss can be a sign that things are getting worse, not better. When your body is unable to use insulin effectively, it can’t transport glucose to the cells, and the glucose simply builds up in your blood. Meanwhile, your body interprets the glucose cut off as signs that you’re starving, so it goes into survival mode. All of a sudden, your body is burning fat and muscle as quickly as possible, leading to weight loss.
Slow-Healing Cuts or Wounds
We are all susceptible to minor wounds—cuts, scratches, bumps, etc.—but type 2 diabetes can magnify these annoyances into severe problems. For example, if you notice that a cut is taking longer to heal, you could have more to worry about than a surface-level wound. This is for a variety of reasons. First, when white blood cells are denied glucose, they are unable to play their role in the immune system. Second, type 2 diabetes leads to poor blood circulation, so it takes longer for nutrients to arrive at wounds. That means your body loses its ability to quickly and efficiently close wounds and fight bacteria.
Sometimes, though, you may be wounded and not realize it until long after the injury took place. That’s because diabetes can cause nerve damage, which leads to numbing in various parts of the body. You simply don’t feel the injury. Your lack of awareness, coupled with the lack of healing, leads to the wound getting worse and increasing its risk of infection.
Changes in vision quality over time are a natural part of aging. Sudden changes, however, are an immediate cause for alarm. Diabetic retinopathy is a specific condition caused by damage to the blood vessels at the back of your eyes. If you notice your vision has become blurred, speak with your physician immediately. Left unaddressed, diabetic retinopathy can lead to impaired color vision, dark areas in your vision, and, eventually, complete blindness.
With all of the signs we’ve discussed so far, fatigue is a natural byproduct. You’re dealing with dehydration, weight loss, and drawn-out wounds. You’re also struggling with internal organs that are slowly being worn down by your condition. The greatest danger, however, is succumbing to fatigue and not taking action to improve your health and fight back.
How to Fight Back
Type 2 diabetes is often labeled the “silent killer” because it takes patients so long to realize they have it.
“Symptoms can be mild or absent initially,” says Laurie Sandberg, BSN, RN, CDE, of Meritus Endocrinology Specialists. “Later, as the blood sugar approaches 250-300 Mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter), a person may experience fatigue, weight loss, excessive thirst, constant hunger, and frequent urination.”
The best thing you can do to fight it is to stay on your toes, monitoring your health and reporting any changes as they arise to your primary care physician.
If you aren’t already getting a yearly screening for type 2 diabetes, now is the perfect time to start.
If the above symptoms have set in, you need to know that there is hope. Start by talking to your functional medicine practitioner about possible causes. There could be many different contributing factors that triggered the cells to become insulin resistant. Your functional medicine practitioner can identify these factors and prescribe a plan of action to help you overcome type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is not a sudden ailment that strikes out of nowhere. It is a gradual development, growing over time. Watch out for the signs, and work with your doctor and functional medicine provider to fight the cause. With consistent attention and care, you can beat it.