Get Symptom-Savvy About Diabetes

If you think that you or someone you know might have diabetes, don't be scared. Thanks to advances in treatment, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are conditions that, although chronic, can be managed so you can look forward to a long and healthy life.

It's important to know the key signs of diabetes and the symptoms associated with high and low blood sugar so you can take action and get back on track at the first sign of trouble. So what are the symptoms of diabetes?

The earliest diabetes symptoms are subtle and can be associated with many other illnesses, but two classic signs are extreme thirst accompanied by excessive urination. Here's why: When you develop diabetes, excess sugar builds up in your blood faster than your kidneys can process it, so the sugar exits through your urine, taking extra fluid from your tissues with it, which can make you dehydrated and very thirsty.

Other symptoms that can indicate diabetes include blurred vision, tingling in the hands and feet, sudden weight gain or weight loss, and flulike symptoms.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops producing the insulin that your body needs to process sugar. That's why type 1 diabetes symptoms include extreme hunger, as well as weight loss and fatigue--there's no insulin to move the sugar to your body's cells, so they (and you) feel starved for fuel.

In type 2 diabetes, your body still produces some insulin, but it's either not enough to fulfill your needs or your body becomes resistant to the insulin that is available. Early type 2 diabetes symptoms are similar to those for type 1--weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, and extreme hunger.

If you have diabetes, some symptoms mean that you need to check your blood sugar and take action. If you feel shaky, suddenly break into a sweat, or feel dizzy, your blood sugar may be low (hypoglycemia). What to do: Drink about 1/2 cup of orange juice or 1 cup of milk, or eat three glucose tablets, according to the book Type II Diabetes: A Cleveland Clinic Guide (Cleveland Clinic Press, 2008).

By contrast, fatigue, excessive thirst, and feeling irritable can be signs that your blood sugar is too high (hyperglycemia). What to do: Be sure that you are eating and exercising regularly, and review your medications with your doctor to see whether you need to adjust your dosage.

Also, if your blood sugar is very high (greater than 240 mg/dl), buy a home urine-testing kit and check your urine for ketones, which are acids that your body produces when it breaks down fat for energy. High levels of ketones can cause diabetic ketoacidosis. This condition is rare, but it's more common in people with type 1 than type 2 diabetes, and it's more common among children and teens, according to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Although diabetic ketoacidosis can be serious, you can avoid it if you know the symptoms of hyperglycemia and take action to keep your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible.