Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high. While most people with type-1 diabetes are born with it, type-2 can come on at any time.
With type-2 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body’s cells don’t react to insulin. The hormone insulin – produced by the pancreas – is responsible for controlling the amount of glucose in the blood.
If diabetes is left untreated the glucose starts to build up in the blood instead of heading straight for the cells. If the blood sugar gets too high or too low, health complications arise. Below are some of the signs.
> You’re constantly running to the bathroom. “If your body doesn’t make enough insulin [a hormone that carries glucose into your cells to give them energy],” which can happen with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, “glucose builds up in your bloodstream and comes out in your urine,” explains Janet Silverstein, MD, chief of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Florida. Because you’re urinating a lot, you’ll probably also be very thirsty and drinking more than usual.
> Your vision is blurry. High blood sugar levels cause glucose to build up in the lens of your eyes, making it harder for you to focus. This could mean that you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
> You’re losing weight for no apparent reason. This is usually a sign of type 1 diabetes, but it sometimes happens with type 2. When the body can’t make insulin, glucose (sugar) from food can’t be used by the body’s cells for energy or stored, says Dr. Silverstein. In addition, fat starts to break down, making you lose more weight.
> There’s a dark ring around your neck. When your body starts pumping out too much insulin—which is common with type 2—receptors in the skin folds respond by making extra pigment, says Alyne Ricker, MD, pediatric endocrinologist at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
> You’re getting frequent yeast infections. This can happen with type 1 or type 2, because a buildup of glucose can cause an overgrowth of yeast. Symptoms often include vaginal itching and thick discharge. Keep in mind that young children might instead get a diaper rash, and boys might get urethritis, a yeast infection of the urethra.
> You’re 45 or older. Diabetes risk goes up with age, so the American Diabetes Association recommends getting screened at least every three years starting at age 45.
> You’re overweight. Even being just 10 to 15 pounds overweight can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If your child is overweight, make sure his pediatrician tests him, because type 2 diabetes is on the rise in kids. The encouraging news is that losing just 5% to 7% of your body weight can reduce your risk of diabetes, according to research from the Diabetes Prevention Program. Testing usually involves screening your blood for high glucose (sugar) levels. If they’re too high, you could have either type 1 or type 2. (See box, right, for explanations of the two types.) Your doctor will most likely be able to sort it out based on your age and symptoms. In some cases, you may also need to see an endocrinologist (specialist).