Diabetes Symptoms to Never Ignore

One of the keys to leading a healthy life with diabetes is to keep your glucose levels, or blood sugar, in check. As your main source of energy, glucose plays a big role in keeping your body working like it should. If you have either type of diabetes, you need to be aware of symptoms that may mean your glucose is out of balance.

If your blood sugar is too low:

Symptom: Acting Drunk or Losing Consciousness

Your brain can be affected if your sugar level drops too low.

Low glucose can cause you to stagger, slur words, or even pass out.

What to do: It's smart to wear a medical bracelet or necklace that lets people know you have diabetes.

If your blood sugar gets too low, taking in about 15 to 20 grams of a simple carb may help. Some examples are a half a cup of orange juice, 2 tablespoons of raisins, or a tablespoon of sugar. Glucose tablets and gel tubes are also available. Some people keep an injectable hormone called glucagon on hand and tell their friends how to give them the shot in case they faint or can’t swallow. Ask your doctor if keeping glucagon on hand is right for you.

If you can, check your fingerstick 15 minutes after 15 grams of sugar. If you are still low (less than 70 or less than 100 with symptoms), eat another round of carbs. When your blood sugar returns to your target range, eat a meal or snack to prevent if from dropping again. If you've gone 3 rounds and your sugar is still low, or your symptoms persist, call 911.

Always let your doctor know if you've had an episode of low blood sugar. Your treatment plan may have to be adjusted.

 

If Your Blood Sugar Is Too High:

High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, usually causes its damage slowly over time. But there are some instances when more urgent care is needed.  If you have any of the following symptoms, check with a fingerstick.

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Symptom: Excessive Urination

It's normal to release as much as 84 ounces of urine a day -- that's about 2 liters. 

What to do: Since you probably don't measure your urine output, pay attention to a change in your habits. One cause of  urinating more frequently or waking up at night to urinate (especially in younger people) is high blood sugar.

“Waking at night to urinate and urinating larger amounts than usual can mean something is wrong,” says David Michael Erani, MD. He is an endocrinologist at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. People with an overactive bladder or men with an enlarged prostate may urinate frequently as well. But as long as the actual amount has not increased, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have uncontrolled glucose.

Symptom: Excessive thirst

Being thirstier than usual can be brought on by warm weather, salty foods, or an increase in your workout routine. But your thirst can also be brought on by too much urination.

What to do: Continue to drink when you're thirsty. If you're dehydrated, though, you may need medical care.

Thirst may mean “your body is signaling you to drink more,” says Fernando Ovalle, MD. He is director of the Diabetes & Endocrine Clinical Research Unit at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. Urinating and drinking more than a gallon a day is a signal that something is wrong.

Symptom: Losing weight while eating normally

When your glucose is high, you may be losing calories in your urine. “Your body is making you hungry and thirsty to keep up with the lost fluids and calories,” says Ovalle.

What to do: See your doctor to discuss your diet or have your meds adjusted accordingly.

Symptom: Extreme fatigue

Still exhausted after 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night? Glucose is your main source of energy, but if it's too high, your body isn’t able to use it properly.

What to do: See your doctor to discuss your diet or have your meds adjusted accordingly.

If you can’t get out of bed, feel dizzy, or nauseated, call 911.

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Symptom: Slow healing

Small cuts, bloody gums, infections, and sores usually heal in a few days, but white blood cells, which fight infection, are dependent on glucose levels being right. They can become slow to respond to infections when your glucose is high.

What to do: Inspect your skin twice a day, paying special attention to your feet. Nerve damage from diabetes can prevent you from feeling irritations that can develop into sores. If you find wounds that don’t heal in a few days, see your doctor to discuss your diet or have your meds adjusted accordingly.

Symptom: Eye problems

What to do: When your blood sugar shifts, it can make the lens of your eye shrink or swell, causing the vision to blur or create little spots called floaters, says Ovalle. This in itself is usually not a big concern, but you should see an ophthalmologist to be sure. If you have sudden vision loss, either complete or partial, call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Other symptoms to watch for: Shoulder pain, nausea, discomfort in arms, jaw, or chest

People with diabetes have a greater risk of heart disease, so these symptoms should not be ignored, even if they go away and come back. Also take note of shortness of breath, fainting, or breaking out in a cold sweat. Call 911 if you have any of these symptoms.

How to Stay on Track

Diet and exercise, in addition to taking prescribed meds, are fundamental to good sugar control.  Home blood sugars may provide useful feedback to keep you on track. Speak to your diabetes educator or provider to learn how to check your blood sugar at home. 

Ask your doctor what your target blood sugar range should be. Find out what to do if your blood sugar lands in the high or low range. Also ask when you should test your urine for ketones. You should call your doctor right away if your urine contains ketones.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on February 23, 2017

Sources

American Diabetes Association: "Hypoglycemia (Low blood glucose)," "Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2013"

David Michael Erani, MD, endocrinologist, Joslin Diabetes Center, Boston, MA, instructor of medicine, Harvard Medical School.

Joslyn Diabetes Center, Boston, Mass.: “Four Tips for Foot Care When You Have Diabetes.”

Medline Plus: "Urine 24-hour volume."

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, "What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack?"

Fernando Ovalle, MD, endocrinologist, professor of medicine and director, Diabetes & Endocrine Clinical Research Unit, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.

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