Diabetes Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore
Blood sugar that’s consistently out of whack increases your risk of health problems throughout your body, including your heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and also nerves.
The resulting complications could lead to disabling, even life-threatening, conditions — which is why, if you have type 2 diabetes, practicing good diabetes management and maintaining blood sugar control is a must.
Being able to recognize the warning signs of potential complications is one of the first steps to successfully managing diabetes, says Gerald Bernstein, MD, director of the diabetes management program at the Gerald J. Friedman Diabetes Institute in New York City.
Here are seven types of symptoms that people with diabetes should never ignore:
1. Confusion, Dizziness, and Shakiness
These are often a sign of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). “People describe it as feeling nervous or anxious,” says Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, of Manhattan Beach, California. Blood sugar is usually considered low when it falls below 70 millimiters of mercury (mmHg). Left untreated, blood sugar that low could cause you to pass out and also need emergency medical treatment.
If you experience any of the symptoms of hypoglycemia, check your blood sugar. The more often you check your blood sugar, the lower your risk is of hypoglycemia, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
If your number is less than 70 mmHg, eat 15 grams of carbohydrate, such as three to four glucose tablets, 4 ounces of orange juice, or 2 tablespoons of raisins. Wait 15 minutes and then check your blood sugar again. If it hasn’t gone above 70 mmHg, eat 15 more grams of carbohydrate. Wait 15 minutes, and recheck your blood sugar. If you continue to experience symptoms, call your doctor or seek medical treatment. Zanini advises carrying hard candy or glucose tablets with you so you can react as soon as you feel yourself getting shaky.
2. Excessive Urination and Thirst
Conversely, thirst and a consistent need to urinate could be signs that your blood sugar is too high. Over time, high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can lead to serious complications, including kidney damage, heart disease, and nerve damage.
You can help prevent and treat high blood sugar by exercising, following your diabetes meal plan, and taking your medication as prescribed. If you continue to experience episodes of high blood sugar, work with your doctor to see if you need to make lifestyle changes or adjustments to your treatment plan.
Call your doctor or seek medical treatment if your blood sugar level remains high for a prolonged period of time. Untreated high blood sugar could lead to severe complications that require emergency care, such as diabetic coma.
3. Blurry Vision and Pressure in Your Eyes
Uncontrolled diabetes can also increase your risk for several eye conditions, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts. If not addressed medically, these conditions can lead to vision loss and eventually cause blindness. It’s important to have regular eye exams and also report any concerns to your eye doctor between visits. Call your doctor if you experience a sudden change in vision, or if you have blurry vision, floaters, or pressure in your eyes.
4. Wounds That Don’t Heal
Diabetes decreases blood flow, which is why uncontrolled diabetes can result in poor circulation. This can keep wounds from healing because essential nutrients in blood can’t get where they’re needed.
Wounds can turn into ulcers and sores, which could become infected. And if they get serious enough, infections may need amputation. Regularly inspect your body, especially your feet, for cuts or bruises and treat them immediately, before they have a chance to worsen. See your doctor if a wound becomes infected or doesn’t heal.
5. Loss of Feeling in Your Feet
Neuropathy, or nerve damage from poor circulation, especially in your limbs, is a diabetes complication that can prevent you from feeling heat or cold or a cut on your foot, which could then go untreated. Always wear well-fitting shoes, inspect your limbs down to each toe and the soles of your feet every day, and seek medical attention for problems that won’t go away.
6. Swelling of Hands, Face, Feet, and Ankles
Swelling can be a sign that your kidneys aren’t functioning properly. Other symptoms of kidney malfunction may include upset stomach, weakness, difficulty sleeping, and also difficulty concentrating, according to the ADA.
Poorly functioning kidneys can be life-threatening — they don’t filter waste from your blood as they should. Keep your blood pressure and your blood sugar within your target ranges to avoid damaging your kidneys, and have your doctor regularly monitor your kidney function with blood tests.
7. Chest, Jaw, or Arm Pain
These symptoms may be signs of heart attack, says Linda Siminerio, PhD, RN, certified diabetes instructor and also director at the University of Pittsburgh Diabetes Institute and also an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the School of Nursing.
Diabetes can also weaken your blood vessels and allow plaque to build up in your arteries. Plaque can break off and damage your heart muscle, resulting in a heart attack or, if the plaque goes to the brain, a stroke. Adults with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Moreover, notes the AHA, at least 68 percent of people with diabetes age 65 and older die from some form of heart disease, and 16 percent die of stroke.
If you suspect you’re having a heart attack, call 911. “Seek medical attention immediately,” Dr. Siminerio urges.