Warning Signs of Diabetes: When to See Your Doctor
Even if you don’t have any of the normal risk factors for diabetes, it’s important to pay attention to subtle signs of high blood sugar.
“Increased thirst and urination, fatigue, and darkening of the skin around the neck, armpits, and groin can be early signs of rising blood sugar,” said Dr. Eric South, primary care physician at CHI St. Joseph Health Primary Care Austin’s Colony. Men may also experience erectile or sexual dysfunction.
Most people don’t even know they have high blood sugar until they are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (and probably have had it for some time).
Diabetes Types 1 and 2: Labels No Longer Apply
Dr. South points out that there are some people who don’t fit the stereotype we often think of with type 2 diabetes. “Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune problem that occurs in someone that may have none of the lifestyle risk factors we commonly associate with diabetes,” said Dr. South. “With type 1 diabetes, our bodies no longer produce insulin. This used to be thought of as childhood-onset diabetes since it may occur without obvious risk factors at a young age.”
With type 2 diabetes, our bodies still produce insulin but eventually become tolerant of or resistant to insulin, requiring more and more to get the same response. “This is what we used to call adult-onset diabetes due to the long process before we notice elevations in blood sugar,” said Dr. South. “Due to our changing lifestyles, these labels no longer apply.”
Dr. South said doctors are now seeing children with type 2 diabetes at a young age, as our society consumes higher amounts of sugar and has an increasing prevalence of overweight and obese children.
Know Your Risk Factors
“Risk factors for diabetes include excess body weight, a sedentary lifestyle, a diet high in sugar or processed foods, and abdominal weight gain,” said Dr. South. “People of certain ethnic groups and backgrounds can also be more susceptible, as well as people with a family history of diabetes.”
It’s important to be aware of risk factors and early symptoms and see your doctor if you need further evaluation.
“This is a great reminder to schedule your annual visit, so this can be monitored and caught early,” said Dr. South. “Serious signs could be confusion, fruity breath, or dehydration. Sometimes people may experience visual changes, slow healing wounds, or numbness in their hands and feet.”
Helping You Manage Your Diabetes
Your provider may order labs to measure your fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin a1c—which gives a three-month estimate of your average blood sugar. They might also request a urine test to assess for protein, ketones, and glucose in your urine and a lipid panel to assess your kidney and liver function.
“Your blood pressure will be checked and may be treated, as people with diabetes may need to have a lower blood pressure than a person without diabetes,” said Dr. South. “An annual eye exam to screen for retinopathy and other potential effects of diabetes should also be scheduled.”
Your doctor will also calculate your body mass index, and, if you’re above a healthy weight, may encourage you to lose 10% of your body weight.
Finally, diabetes education with an educator, dietitian, or health coach is very important to ensure you have adequate knowledge about managing your condition. This can also help answer the questions you may have about what and how to best eat.
“Visits may be frequent after a diagnosis and then may spread out to every three to six months with your physician once your metabolic markers are at goal,” said Dr. South. “During this time, there may be other visits with other health professionals to help manage other aspects of diabetes.”
The team at CHI St. Joseph Health Primary Care Austin’s Colony is committed to closely monitoring patients who are at risk and working with them to help improve their lifestyle early—before a diabetes diagnosis.