Early Signs of Diabetes

Here's what to watch for

Diabetes, known formally as diabetes mellitus, affects 20 million Americans, with many more at risk. Adult onset, or type II, diabetes continues to rise. People with diabetes cannot either make or use insulin, which is a hormone produced by the body that assists in the breakdown of sugars in our food for fuel. When the body can't do this, the blood stream and the urine become full of sugar molecules, called glucose.

Type II dabetes usually comes on gradually. In fact, it's possible to stave off the disease for a long time, if you watch for early signs that you may have a problem. It's not inevitable, even if it runs in your family, and can be controlled through diet and exercise.

The most common early symptom of diabetes is thirst. The extra blood glucose captures the moisture in your cells, which the body thinks is dehydration. When your body thinks it's dehydrated, it sends the brain the thirst signal and you get thirsty.

The flip side of this is frequent urination. You're drinking more, but your cells aren't absorbing the water. The extra glucose then moves it through the blood stream to the kidneys and bladder, and hey presto, you're living in the bathroom.

Fatigue is another common warning sign of diabetes. Because you can't break food down properly, your muscle cells don't get the fuel they need to run. And thirst and frequent peeing during the night means you probably aren't getting enough sleep, either.

Flu-like symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches and pains are all part of the symptoms of diabetes. The dehydrated cells throughout the body are demanding nourishment, the blood is sluggish with unmetabolized glucose, and the brain, liver and pancreas are not being renewed. Sounds flu-ish, no? Headaches, muscles aches and pains cause sleep patterns to be even more disrupted, leading to more fatigue in a vicious circle. Diabetes shares this cycle in common with fibromyalgia, and if you think you may have fibro, be sure to get checked out for diabetes before you accept that diagnosis.

Finally, and most seriously, vision problems can be part of the onset of diabetes. Dehydrated eye cells can cause vision blurriness. If diabetes goes unchecked, it can cause permanent blindness.

The good news is, diet and exercise changes can both prevent and reverse diabetes--and we're not talking about starvation or marathon running, we're talking very reasonable changes. In serious cases you may need to add medications. Your health care provider will know what's best for your case, but don't let that stop you from taking action now if you think you may have some of the early signs of diabetes.

Lynn Siprelle is the editor of The New Homemaker.