If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, you're probably wondering what that means. You may be curious as to how diabetes can affect your body. And you may be surprised to learn that uncontrolled diabetes can cause irreparable damage to your other body systems, even if you don't "feel" sick. Keep reading to learn what diabetes is, what it means to you, and how exercise can help you.
Types of Diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1, or Juvenile Onset Diabetes, is normally diagnosed during childhood and is caused by the pancreas failing to produce insulin. Type 2 is usually diagnosed during adulthood, however, more and more kids are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, related to the alarming increase in childhood obesity. We will be focusing this article on Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, which is caused by the body not producing enough insulin, or the insulin no longer being as effective. (If your physician has told you that you have Pre-Diabetes, please see our Pre-Diabetes article here.) There is also Gestational Diabetes, but we will not discuss this here, as it affects pregnant women.
Diabetes is a metabolic disease, affecting the way your body's cells use, or fails to use, glucose (sugar) in the blood. In order for the cells to use glucose, it needs a hormone called insulin that is made by the pancreas. Diabetes can affect the insulin-glucose relationship in different ways. If the pancreas doesn't make enough insulin, there is not enough insulin to support the body's need. On the other hand, the cells can become what is called "insulin resistant" which also prevents the cells from using glucose effectively. We'll discuss this in more detail later.
So, let's start by learning the symptoms of diabetes. Increased thirst, increased hunger, fatigue, increased urination (even more so at night), unexplained weight loss, blurred vision, frequent infections, and you may notice sores that will not heal.
The buildup of excess glucose in your blood will cause fluids to be pulled from your body's tissues into your blood stream in an attempt to dilute the blood. This fluid shift can cause you to have dry mouth and make you very thirsty, usually causing you to drink more. Your body will also try to flush this extra glucose from your blood by increasing urination. Combine this with your extra fluid intake and you'll be urinating "every time you turn around." Fluid can also be pulled from the lenses in your eyes, affecting your ability to focus and causing blurred vision. All of this fluid shifting in the body and urination can ultimately lead to dehydration.
If you cells aren't getting the glucose they need because of insufficient or ineffective insulin, your body will think the problem is that you're not eating enough food. In turn, you will feel hungry, even if you're eating an enormous amount of food. You may also find yourself losing weight, despite eating more. However, this isn't always the case. In some instances, you can actually gain weight. The inability of the body's cells to use the blood glucose they require for energy can leaving you feeling fatigued, physically drained, and constantly exhausted. This can lead to increased irritability and weakness.
High glucose levels can fuel infections and can reduce your body's ability to fight infections and to heal wounds. You may have repeated urinary tract (or other) infections, itchy skin (particularly around the groin or vaginal area). Women (and men) may have recurring yeast infections. You may notice cuts or wounds take a longer to heal, if they heal at all. Additionally, you may experience tingling of your hands and / or feet. You may feel nauseated, and you might even vomit.
Increased thirst and frequent urination are usually the symptoms that get people to the doctor. However, if you experience any of the above symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.