Common symptoms of diabetes


Are you worried that you or someone you know may have diabetes? Today an estimated 1 in 10 of Singaporeans are living with the condition. For those above the age of 60, that ratio rises to 1 in 3. If you are experiencing some of the following symptoms, it may be a warning sign of diabetes:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fruity-smelling breath
  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Tingling in hands or feet

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disease that occurs when the blood sugar (blood glucose) level is too high; either the pancreas doesn’t make sufficient insulin or the cells of the body cease responding to the insulin produced. Subsequently, blood sugar levels can rise dangerously. The kidneys then try to dilute the blood glucose by flushing the excess glucose out of the body through urination, making one’s urinate more frequently than usual (exceeding 2.5 litres per day) and therefore thirstier.

Since the cells of the body become resistant to the insulin, the cells are deprived of glucose which creates a feeling of extreme fatigue, triggering the release of the hormone ghrelin to signal hunger to the brain. Excessive eating (high carbohydrate food in particular) increases the blood sugar level and the vicious cycle begins.

When the blood is thick with sugar, poor blood circulation slows the healing process for wounds. Worse still, the excess sugar in the blood can damage the nerves and cause a tingling sensation in the hands and feet – the feeling of pins and needles - due to diabetic neuropathy. It can also lead to dry eyes and blurred vision when fluid is pulled from the lenses of the eyes into the bloodstream to dilute the glucose. Other symptoms including dry and itchy skin, unexplained weight loss and frequent infections should also not be ignored.

Symptoms can develop quickly (type 1 diabetes) or slowly (type 2 diabetes and prediabetes). Some people are at a higher risk of developing diabetes than others. Risk factors include being 40+ years of age, having a close family member with the condition, being overweight or obese, being of a certain ethnicity (Asian, African-Caribbean or black African origin), or pregnant (gestational diabetes).