Diabetes has a way of creeping up on you, with most people showing no symptoms at all. The few who do, almost never recognise them as red flags. The initial signs are usually so generalised that even doctors tend to miss them.
Almost half of India's population gets diagnosed when complications have set in, say experts, and advice everyone to get a simple blood sugar test by age 25. "Those who are obese, inactive and have a family history of diabetes should get it done each year starting at 18," says Dr Sujeet Jha, head, department of endocrinology at Max Super Speciality Saket, New Delhi.
Poorly-managed or untreated diabetes damages blood vessels and nerves and can lead to heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, pregnancy complications, amputations of limbs, and heart failure. Weak healing factor in patients leads to complications in diabetics who undergo surgery.
Among the common early signs of diabetes are:
Chronic fatigue: Diabetic patients cannot produce enough insulin absorb glucose from the blood. This starves the body of energy leaving them feeling fatigued and lethargic.
Tingling hands or feet: Prolonged exposure to high blood sugar damages nerve fibres throughout the body and interferes with their ability to transmit signals, causing tingling, numbness or burning pain in the hands or feet.
Bad breath, gum disease: Diabetes weakens the walls of the small blood vessels throughout the body, including in the gums, making them weak and prone to infection. Bacteria and fungi thrive in the mouth and infect the tongue, cheek and mouth, causing gum inflammation, dryness and bad breath.
Skin darkening, itchiness: Itchy or dry skin along with darkening and scaliness of the skin at the back of the neck, armpits and groin (acanthosis nigricans) may occur even in people who have insulin-resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes.
Blurry vision: High blood sugar changes the shape of the eye's lens, causing refractive problems such as blurry or distorted vision. It can also suddenly improve or deteriorate vision. Vision stabilises once the blood sugar levels is controlled.
Frequent urination: When blood sugar levels spike, the kidneys go on an overdrive to get rid of the excess sugar, forcing diabetics to pee often, sometimes several times during the night. This is followed by excessive thirst as the body tries to replenish fluids lost due to frequent toilet visits.
Bacterial and fungal infections: People with diabetes have low immunity and are more at risk of bacterial and fungal (candida) infections in the genitals and urinary-tract.