March 7 2022
March 7 2022
Living with undiagnosed diabetes.
It’s estimated almost a quarter of a billion adults have diabetes without realizing it. The consequences of this can be devastating.
Discovering you have diabetes does not always happen as quickly as it should. Symptoms vary, and they may be incorrectly attributed to something other than a lack of insulin or the body’s inability to use the insulin it produces. This is why the International Diabetes Federation estimates that almost one out of very two adults with diabetes is living undiagnosed. That’s around 240 million people.
While people with type 1 diabetes may have more acute symptoms than those with type 2, both can experience a broad range of physical occurrences. These include excessive thirst (polydipsia), insatiable hunger (polyphagia), extreme tiredness and the need to urinate frequently (polyuria). People may also experience dark patches on the skin, weight loss, a tingling sensation in the hands and feet, and even blurred vision.
“For people with type 2 diabetes, the symptoms could increase in severity very slowly over a long period of time.”
The need to urinate frequently comes from the fact that the kidneys are working on overdrive to try and remove sugar from the bloodstream. As the kidneys do so, they remove water from the body too – hence the constant thirst. A lack of insulin also hampers one’s ability to draw nutrients out of food, which can lead to extreme fatigue.
It’s easy to understand why somebody may think that thirst is caused by saltiness in food, for example, or that tiredness is caused naturally by a seasonal change. Frequent urination could be incorrectly attributed to a urinary tract infection, while insatiable hunger – particularly in children – may be seen as being caused by a growth spurt.
Having undiagnosed diabetes can have very serious consequences. For people with type 2 diabetes, the symptoms could increase in severity very slowly over a long period of time – perhaps as much as 10 years – such that the patient simply becomes used to feeling a certain way. By then, type 2 diabetes may have started to cause long-term complications to the kidneys, heart, eyes and other organs.
“With greater awareness of the signs and symptoms to look out for in oneself, more people will be able to get the treatment they need before complications develop.”
For people with type 1 diabetes, many of whom are children or adolescents, the onset and worsening of symptoms takes place much faster. Despite this, in the most serious cases of undiagnosed type 1 diabetes patients may end up in hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis. It’s not an uncommon way for a type 1 diabetes diagnosis to take place.
So what can we do about all this?
The American Diabetes Association, for example, recommends screening for type 2 diabetes every three years for everyone over 35. Early-screening protocols such as this are ideal – for type 1 diabetes too – but practices vary widely between countries and healthcare systems. Whether such protocols are present or not, diabetes education is critical. With greater awareness of the signs and symptoms to look out for in oneself – as well as in friends and family – more people will be able to get the treatment they need before complications develop.
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