Let’s get real – diabetes can be deadly. Often slipping into the category of less serious diseases, this chronic ailment still has our country in its grips and the consequences can be life-threatening. According to the International Diabetes Federation, there were 2.28 million cases of diabetes in South Africa in 2015, resulting in over 57 000 deaths. Whoa. Some more worrying stats? Close to 1 400 cases of diabetes in the same year were formerly undiagnosed – sufferers had no idea of their disease before complications arose. The good news is that by paying proper attention to your body, some subtle and not-so-subtle warning signs could help you fend off a diabetes diagnosis. Here are a few of the most common ones to keep in mind:
Tingling and numbness
Glucose is like acid to your nerves. When the bloodstream is overwhelmed with it, the tiny nerve endings that extend to your hands and feet can become damaged over time. Symptoms will present in the form of numbness, itchiness, restlessness or tingling – which you should discuss with a neurologist versus just your normal GP.
When the tangible feeling of thirst comes on, we’re already dehydrated. This actually involves the brain, where the steady supply of glucose our brain cells need is exceeded with a too-high concentration of sugar water. If you feel that your thirst is often insatiable with no good reason, your brain could be summoning fluid from other cells in the body to flush out the excess sugar, with ongoing thirst as a result.
Too many trips to the loo
This goes hand-in-hand with excess thirst. As your brain calls on more fluid to flush out extra glucose, your kidneys draw extra water out your bloodstream to dilute that glucose as they filter it. This naturally means a fuller bladder, which means more bathroom trips than normal, followed by the return of chronic thirst in a frustrating cycle.
Many of us have become so accustomed to routine tiredness that we don’t seek out an explanation or possible underlying problem. If you feel like you’re fighting a battle against chronic fatigue, the glucose from your meals may not be effectively making it into your cells, where it would be converted to a source of energy. You also may not get that feeling of fullness after you eat.
As mentioned above, high glucose levels causes fluid to be drained from different areas in the body in an effort to dilute it. This includes your eyes, and can lead to an inability to focus and damaged eye capillaries. This damage is caused by a harmful number of free radicals – which is why antioxidants are so important in those who are pre-diabetic or diabetic.
Bladder and vaginal infections can be a typical symptom of diabetic and pre-diabetic women. Kidneys do their best to flush out excess sugar, but if they are put under duress over time, they can’t filter waste properly. Toxins can therefore build up in your bloodstream, leading to infection.
If your cells are resistant to insulin or on their way there, glucose doesn’t effectively make its way into them and they feel starved as a result. Your body then hunts for a source of fuel (which is typically glucose), and takes it from your muscle, where glucose is stored. This decreases muscle mass over time, which can result in overall undesired and unhealthy weight loss. It may sound like a good thing, but we want to lose fat, not muscle, and this will have negative consequences over time.
Darker pigmentation in the folds of your body – like armpits, neck and knuckles – can signal insulin resistance. This is where your body has been producing too much insulin in response to excess glucose – with insulin resistance as a result. In some cases these areas could look bumpy or be accompanied with skin tags.