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7 Diabetes Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

It’s time to start listening to your body. Help avoid serious complications of type 2 diabetes by knowing the warning signs.

Blood sugar that’s consistently out of whack increases your risk of health problems throughout your body, including your heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Resulting complications could lead to disabling, even life-threatening, conditions — and that’s why, if you have type 2 diabetes, practicing good diabetes management and maintaining blood sugar control is a must.

Being aware of possible complications and their symptoms is one of the first steps to successfully managing diabetes, says Gerald Bernstein, MD, director of the diabetes management program at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. Educating yourself may help you delay or prevent complications from happening.

Start here, by reading about seven signs of diabetes complications that should never be ignored.

Confusion, dizziness, and shakiness. These symptoms are often a sign of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). “People describe it as feeling nervous or anxious,” says Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Blood sugar is usually considered low when it falls below 70. If left untreated, blood sugar that goes too low could cause you to pass out and need emergency medical treatment.

If you feel any of the symptoms of hypoglycemia, check your blood sugar. If your number is less than 70, eat 15 grams of carbohydrate such as 3 glucose tablets, 4 ounces of orange juice, or 2 tablespoons of raisins. Wait 15 minutes and then check your blood sugar again. If it hasn’t gone above 70, eat 15 more grams of carbohydrate, wait 15 minutes, and recheck your blood sugar. If you continue to experience symptoms, call your doctor or seek medical treatment. Zanini advises carrying hard candy or glucose tablets with you so you can react as soon as you feel yourself getting shaky.

Excessive urination and thirst. Conversely, thirst and a consistent need to urinate could be signs that your blood sugar is too high. Over time, high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can lead to serious complications, including kidney damage, heart disease, and nerve damage. You can help prevent and treat high blood sugar by exercising, following your diabetes meal plan, and taking your medications as prescribed. If you continue to experience episodes of high blood sugar, work with your doctor to see if you need to make lifestyle changes or adjustments to your treatment plan.

Call your doctor or seek medical treatment if your blood sugar levels remain high for a prolonged period of time. If left untreated, high blood sugar could lead to severe complications that require emergency care, such as diabetic coma.

Blurry vision and pressure in your eyes. Uncontrolled diabetes can increase your risk for several eye conditions, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts. If left untreated these conditions can lead to vision loss and eventually cause blindness. It’s important to have regular eye exams and report any concerns to your eye doctor between visits. Call your doctor if you experience a sudden change in vision, or if you have blurry vision, floaters, or pressure in your eyes.

Wounds that don’t heal. Diabetes decreases blood flow, and uncontrolled diabetes can result in poor circulation. This can keep wounds from healing because nourishing blood cells can’t get where they're needed. Wounds can turn into ulcers and sores that could become infected. And if they get serious enough, infections may need amputation. Regularly inspect your body, especially your feet, for cuts or bruises and treat them immediately, before they have a chance to worsen. See your doctor if your wound becomes infected or doesn’t heal.

Loss of feeling in your feet. Neuropathy, or nerve damage from poor circulation, especially in your limbs, is a diabetes complication that can prevent you from feeling heat or cold or a cut on your foot that could then go untreated. Always wear good fitting shoes, inspect your limbs down to each toe and the soles of your feet every day, and seek medical attention for problems that won’t go away.

Swelling of hands, face, feet, and ankles. Swelling can be a sign that your kidneys aren’t functioning properly. Other symptoms of kidney malfunction may include upset stomach, weakness, difficulty sleeping, and difficulty concentrating, according to the American Diabetes Association. Poorly functioning kidneys can be life-threatening — they don’t filter waste from your blood as they should. Keep your blood pressure and your blood sugar within your target ranges to avoid damaging your kidneys, and have your doctor regularly monitor your kidney function with blood tests.

Chest, jaw, or arm pain. These symptoms may be signs of heart attack, says Linda Siminerio, RN, PhD, CDE, director at the University of Pittsburgh Diabetes Institute and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Diabetes can weaken your blood vessels and allow plaque to build up in your arteries. Plaque can break off and damage your heart muscle, resulting in a heart attack or, if the plaque goes to the brain, a stroke. Heart attacks and strokes are the leading cause of death for people with diabetes, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. If you suspect you're having a heart attack, call 911. “Seek medical attention immediately," Siminerio says.

Work as a Team to Manage Diabetes

You and your team of health care providers — which may include your doctor, an endocrinologist, eye doctor, podiatrist, diabetes educator, nutritionist, and others — should be working together to manage your diabetes and prevent complications. “It takes a village to manage diabetes,” Siminerio says. “Living healthy and eating healthy can make a dramatic difference in good diabetes management.”
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