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Diabetes is a chronic ailment, characterized by an increased sugar level in the blood. It is caused due to abnormal metabolism of the hormone insulin, which is secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin regulates the metabolic process of sugar in the body. It induces the body cells to take up glucose from the blood, for using it as a source of energy. This function of insulin is disturbed in a diabetic patient. Hence, sugar remains in the blood, resulting in high blood glucose level (hyperglycemia) and associated symptoms.

Three Types of Diabetes

It is estimated that about 8.3 percent Americans have diabetes. In fact, it is identified as one of the leading causes of death, after cancer and heart disease. Diabetes is classified into three major types, depending upon the etiology, viz. type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. While the health effects accompanied with high blood sugar remain the same, actual symptoms differ slightly according the type of diabetes. Hence, to get a better understanding about the same, a brief explanation about the three diabetes types is given below.

Type 1 Diabetes
About 10-15 percent of diabetes patients are diagnosed with this type. Type 1 diabetes is caused due to damage of beta cells of the pancreas, which results in little or no production of insulin. Previously, it was thought to affect only children and hence, it is referred to as juvenile diabetes or childhood diabetes. Since a patient of type 1 diabetes requires insulin injections daily, it is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes
In contrary to the type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is known as insulin-independent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes. It is the most common type of diabetes, accounting to about 85-90 percent of all the cases. In this diabetes type, either the body cells do not respond properly to insulin (though hormone secretion is normal) or there is insufficient insulin. It is often associated with obesity and a less active lifestyle.

Gestational Diabetes
This form of diabetes is similar to type 2 diabetes, but occurs exclusively in pregnant women. Also known as carbohydrate intolerance, it is caused either due to hormonal changes or shortage of insulin during pregnancy. Usually, the sugar level becomes normal or near normal after the birth of the baby. In case, the symptoms persist then there is a high chance of developing type 2 diabetes in a later period.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

A few symptoms of diabetes are manifested in the early stage (or prediabetes phase). Hence, about one-third of people who have diabetes remain unaware of the high blood sugar level. When the early signs of diabetes are present, they are often confused with symptoms of other health problems. Let's look into some of the warming signs of diabetes.
  • A common sign exhibited in the early stages of type 1 and type 2 diabetes is frequent urination (polyuria). Since the glucose in the blood increases above the normal level, filtration by kidneys is incomplete. This also hampers water absorption by the kidneys, resulting in frequent urination.
  • Due to increase in the frequency of urination, the body losses excessive fluid. Ultimately, dehydration occurs, causing increased thirst (polydipsia). If one is drinking more fluid than the usual amount, and the number of urination is increased, either type 1 or type 2 diabetes is suspected.
  • Another warning sign of type 1 and type 2 diabetes is increased appetite. One of the functions of insulin is stimulating hunger. Since, the body starts secreting more insulin to lower glucose level in the bloodstream, it is obvious to experience increased hunger (polyphagia).
  • A patient who is in the prediabetes stage suffers from unusual weight loss, even without trying. This is caused due to excessive loss of sugar in the urine. The body starts using muscular proteins and fats as its source of energy, resulting in weight loss. This symptom is typical of type 1 diabetes.
  • In a person with prediabetes, excess sugar is found in the blood and not in the cells. As the body cells are deprived of the main energy source - glucose, the patient feels increased fatigue at most of the time. Physical ability is lowered and the patient gets tired very easily.
  • Vision problem is reported in patients of type 2 diabetes. Increase in the blood sugar levels leads to change in the shape of the eye lenses. Over time, this results in poor focusing power and blurred vision in patients.
  • A type 2 diabetic patient suffers from frequent yeast and skin infections. Unchecked high sugar brings about damage to the nerves, causing neuropathy symptoms (numbness in the extremities). In addition, cuts and wounds take longer period to heal.
It has been found that the immune system of a diabetic patient is low, as compared to a healthy person. This may be due to presence of elevated glucose in the blood, which in turn hampers the proper functioning of white blood cells (leukocytes). Thus, overall defense mechanism of the body gets disturbed and the person experiences frequent yeast infection, skin infection, accompanied with slow healing of bruises. As far as early signs of gestational diabetes are concerned, it seldom produces notable signs. The expecting mother rarely feels polyuria and polydipsia.

In case, a person experiences any of the above mentioned warning signs, he/she should go for blood glucose test right away. Seeking advice from a health specialist for proper diagnosis is necessary. Doing so will help in delaying the onset or even control this chronic ailment. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes and diet modification to keep the blood sugar level under control.

Remember that an untreated diabetes can lead to serious health problems such as diabetic retinopathy (eye disease), diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), kidney disease and kidney failure. Impotency in men and vaginal dryness in women afflicted with type 2 diabetes are also not uncommon. Along with changes in the lifestyle and diet, regular checking of blood sugar is a must. This helps in confirming, whether the treatment approaches are working or not.