Diabetes – An Introduction

What is Diabetes?

diabetes, disease, diabetic

Diabetes is a chronic illness.

It does not affect everyone, but it has the potential to do so. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, could suffer from this devastating illness. It is a time-bomb waiting to blow and the increase in numbers diagnosed worldwide with this illness, has already exploded.

This introduction to diabetes is the first in a series of articles that delves into all aspects – from diagnosis to medication, pre-diabetes to diabetic prognosis. It is written by a sufferer of Type 2 Diabetes who has personal experience of most of the topics mentioned. I don’t think you will find this information expressed from an inside viewpoint anywhere else on the Internet.

Health Warning: These articles may contain nuts

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I am a diabetic. Everything in this article is from a personal point of view. If you are, or think you may be, diabetic, then you should consult your medical practitioners for their diagnosis, treatment and advice.

Brief Background:

At the beginning of January 2009 I was admitted to hospital in a hyperglycaemic diabetic coma with a blood-glucose level of 77.1 (UK Measurement).

The consultants did not think I would survive that day.

I did!

They thought I would require amputations.

I did not!

It took two weeks to stabilize my blood-glucose levels using insulin at high levels. Diabetes devastated my life.

Word of warning. 

It could happen to you!

What is Diabetes? – The Definition

Well, I can define diabetes quite easily and you will see several similar definitions in excellent diabetes-related sites on the Internet (see ‘External Links’ below). Diabetes is:

  • any of several diseases that are indicated by an excessive discharge of urine – you wee a lot!
  • Diabetes Insipidus – a disease caused by a disorder of the pituitary gland which leads to a malfunction of the kidney. It is caused by an imbalance in insulin production, either a decrease or more rarely an increase. The pituitary stops working properly.
  • Diabetes Mellitus – caused by a decrease in the capacity of cells in your body to utilize the insulin produced. The cell stop working properly.
  • both of which manifest themselves by an excess of sugar in your blood and urine.

Note that the definition describes it as a disease and not an infection.

  • disease is a disorder with distinctive symptoms. It affects you, usually because of a malfunction in a body part. It does not infect you.
  • an infection, on the other hand, is caused by pathogenic micro-organisms (germs, viruses). They can cause malfunctions, but as an external agent (not of the body). An infection can be passed to another, usually of the same species.

So, in one respect you can rest assured that, although you can contract diabetes you cannot pass it on. With one exception – you can pass it through genetics.

Summary of Diabetic Symptoms

Some, all or none of these symptoms may be experienced.

anatomy of the human body, big picture, significant symptoms of diabetes

Functional symptoms:

  • Polydipsia – thirst.
  • Polyuria – urination (peeing, weeing)
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Polyphagia – hunger (both greater or less than normal)

Physical symptoms:

  • Tiredness, fatigue and malaise
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Genital itching and thrush
  • Dry skin
  • Slow healing sores
  • Blood infections
  • Skin infections
  • Nerve effects

Signs:

  • Neck size – anything over size 17 (UK)
  • Waist Size – anything over 40 inches
  • BMI > 30 (Body Mass Index)

And all the physical symptoms will continue and become physical effects after you are diagnosed. You really have something to look forward to, believe me.

Diabetic Symptoms

Although diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus have different causes, the effects on your body are similar. This is also the case for Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. Again the causes are different but the effects on your body (blood-glucose irregularities) are similar. This means that outward signs (symptoms) of these three diseases have many similarities.

The most difficult of the three types to place a discreet set of symptoms against is Type 2 Diabetes. This is why there are so many people worldwide that have the disease but, to date, have gone undiagnosed. The problem is that there is no set of symptoms that are the same for each sufferer. The symptoms may be very mild, where there is a gradual raising of blood-glucose levels, over time. It is an insidious disease that creeps up on you and says ‘boo’ when you least expect it.

Another reason for Type 2 Diabetes going unnoticed is that the symptoms are those that you could associate merely with getting older. As it is more likely that you will contract diabetes in later life, this is a hazard that is inevitable.

Type 1 Diabetes does not creep up on you. It is more like being hit by a car whilst you are on a zebra-crossing. It is sudden and devastating. And much of the time it happens to younger people that would not assume that the symptoms are a function of increasing age.

For the other types of diabetes such as Gestational Diabetes, there is an obvious cause and the likelihood is that it will be diagnosed in the general course of events. Testing of your blood when you are pregnant is a consequence that you cannot avoid.

There are two types of symptoms for all types of diabetes. Unfortunately, not all symptoms will be present for any particular sufferer, and in many cases there will be no symptoms at all. The two type of symptoms are:

  1. Functional
  2. Physical

Functional Symptoms

These are the symptoms that are manifested in the daily functions that your body undertakes:

  • Bowel movements:
  1. You may see an increase in the number of times you need to pee (urinatation) [polyuria] and the amount you pee at each session. It may be subtle changes to begin with, that you could put down to age – hence the possibility that this symptom is ignored. As the disease progresses and remains untreated the quantity and frequency increase. It is the body’s mechanism to flush out the excessive blood-glucose in the blood. Increased peeing is not confined to daytime – it follows that an increase in blood-glucose due to diabetes does not go away in the night, let alone overnight. In extreme cases where no treatment has begun the quantity of pee produced is huge. In my case, in the latter stages, just before I went into a coma, I was peeing around 1/2 pint every 30-40 minutes, throughout the day and night.
  2. You may find that you suffer more from constipation. Again, because this is a function of getting old and can occur for many reasons other than diabetes, it is invariably not taken as a sign that diabetes is present.
  3. The silly thing is that you may alternatively suffer from bouts of diarrhoea, which seems incongruous with the symptom of constipation. It is the extreme of bowel movements that is the symptom.
  • Thirst (polydipsia)- you may notice that you feel thirsty more often and that your thirst is not quenched easily. Where the disease has progressed to the stage where it is having a devastating effect on your body, it is not surprising that thirst is a symptom. Half a pint every 30 to 40 minutes does not sound a lot in itself but when you add it up that’s 36 to 48 pints a day. This must be replenished somehow.
  • Hunger (polyphagia) – if you find you are getting the ‘munchies’ more often, then this could be a sign that your blood-glucose levels are increasing. This is a ‘self-fulfilling’ prophecy of doom. Body weight is thought to be a contributing factor in the contracting of diabetes but it may also be a consequence of diabetes. The more you eat the more likely it is that you will be diagnosed with diabetes, the greater your blood-glucose level the more likely you are to have hunger pangs and subsequently eat more. In my case, as my blood glucose levels progressed towards the extreme, my hunger actually subsided to the point where the only sustenance I was taking was in liquid form.

Physical Manifestations

 These are the physical signs on or about your body that are a little more prevalent than normal:

  • Tiredness and fatigue – you feel as though all the energy is being drained out of you and it leaves you with the ‘I can’t be bothered to do anything’ feeling. A sort of malaise washes over the body and can have a serious effect on motivation and coping with life. The difficulty I had in recognizing this as a symptom was that I had been diagnosed with Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. So I was mentally and physically tired anyway.
  • Weight loss – again it seems incongruous that, when the world is telling us that it is increasing weight that is the problem, a gradual or sudden loss of weight turns out to be a symptom. It is, however, not the loss of weight due to a decrease in fat but more a loss of muscular bulk due to muscle wastage that we are dealing with.
  • Blurred vision – again, this is a symptom that is often put down to getting older and is ignored. In this case it is due to alterations to the shape of the lens in the eye caused by dryness (osmotic effect – the blood-glucose ‘soaks up the fluid’).
  • Genital itching and thrush – another one of those symptoms that goes unreported because it happens when it is nothing to do with diabetes.
  • Dry skin – who doesn’t have dry skin? Women pay a fortune to cosmetics companies to get rid of this. However, it is more the production of more dry skin than one would normally have. It is where you notice a marked increase. Dryness, peeling and itchiness of the skin on the feet is the main sign that something is amiss. I have not seen this one mentioned elsewhere but I get dry skin in my ears and it can be irritating and annoying.
  • Slow-healing sores – especially on the feet, but also on the legs and elsewhere. These can be suppurating in the worst cases.
  • Blood infections – I have not seen it mentioned anywhere but I suffered with, over a long period of time, perianal abscesses which required surgery, and frequent eye infections. I am speculating that these could have been warning signs that not all was well with my blood.
  • Skin infections – I have not seen details of what type of skin infections may be a symptom but I presume it is ulcers and the like that would point in the direction of a blood-glucose problem.
  • Nerve effects – Again, often, these can be put down to age and the deterioration of the body due to age. Here I am specifically talking about tingling and numbness in the hands and / or feet. With the hands this is a function of ‘carpel-tunnel syndrome’ which is in turn one effect of rheumatism. So it is difficult to differentiate where it is that or diabetes that is the cause. In addition, especially with Type 1 Diabetes, cramping of the muscles can be an issue. I have type 2 diabetes and suffer from leg cramps of the calf muscles when in bed. It is very important to take any nerve issues seriously as this could indicate that the diabetes is fairly advanced. Nerve damage is a long-term effect and is very serious. It’s end-stage is neuropathy (death of the nerve cells) – damage which can lead to amputations.

Signs or indications rather than symptoms can be as follows:

  • Neck size greater than 17″ or 43 cm in men. I don’t know the equivalent for women – there must be one.
  • Waist size in men (the greatest circumference around the body – without breathing in, guys) – anything over 40″  or 100 cm is a sign that there is a problem.
  • BMI greater than 30 makes you obese. Get a chart to calculate your Body Mass Index from your height and weight measurement.

For a more technical explanation try: Wikipedia: Diabetes

————– Disclaimer ————–

The content of this article is, in the main, a personal description of all aspects of Type 2 Diabetes and its effects. The style of the article should indicate that the medical information contained in it is not from personal clinical research but obtained through personal academic research into the conditions that I suffer from, due to diabetes. None of the information, nor any of the views and self-diagnosis tests that are linked to or produced within this article is to be used as a substitute for professional medical care. Diabetes is a serious disease and may lead to critical complications. Diagnosis and disease management are sometimes complicated and entail more than one medical issue to be evaluated in order to establish proper care. If you think you may have any of the medical conditions explored herein, consult your doctor or other members of your health care team.

Where information is provided it is produced in order for you better to understand your diabetic health issues. However, by its very nature, some information may be dug from the recesses of my brain and this will not have a citation. I have tried to check all information to be correct but no guarantee is given that it is correct at the time of reading as medical science changes rapidly. Any information or links herein are for your convenience and do not imply any support or warranty as to the value or accuracy of the information, products or services.

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