Diabetes: Why You Might Miss the Signs

Diabetes: Why You Might Miss the Signs

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Diabetes symptoms may not seem like a big deal—and they may even mimic other conditions. How do you know when it’s time to get to the doctor? We’ve got the lowdown.

You probably know that diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, can be dangerous. However, both types have their own problems and complications. Type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition in which your pancreas produces little or no insulin, must be constantly managed, and complications can include heart disease, kidney damage, and blindness. Another complication from type 1, known as diabetic ketoacidosis, can lead to coma and even death. Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1 in that type 2 affects the way your body metabolizes glucose. However, type 2 has some of the same complications as type 1 plus problems involving sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s disease.

So, proper diagnosis and treatment is crucial. But what if you are unaware you have it, hold off on seeing a doctor, or even mistake your diabetes symptoms for something else?

Cause for concern

That’s what happened to comedian and Orange Is the New Black star Lea DeLaria who recently shared that she mistook her type 2 diabetes symptoms as menopause. In an interview with Yahoo Life, she said, “I had all the symptoms of diabetes — frequent urination in the middle of the night, feeling like I had no energy — but those are also symptoms of menopause.” She finally went to a doctor and found that her blood-sugar levels were twice the levels at which diabetes is diagnosed.

She’s not the only one to be surprised. Interview with the Vampire author Anne Rice was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1998 when she slipped into a coma after experiencing headaches, breathing problems, and other ongoing symptoms. She was later told she was just 10 minutes away from death. Singer Patti LaBelle found out she had type 2 diabetes only after passing out on stage. And Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry was diagnosed after she lapsed into a diabetic coma while on set.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18: Actor Tom Hanks attends the People's Choice Awards 2017 at Microsoft Theater on January 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Tom Hanks photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

Of course, sometimes it’s possible to see the signs—and ignore them. Actor Tom Hanks was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after years of high blood sugar results and warnings from his doctor. In an interview, he said, “I’m part of the lazy American generation that has blindly kept dancing through the party and now finds ourselves with a malady.”

Celebrities aren’t the only people who receive surprising diagnoses. One Reddit user described figuring out the symptoms only after watching an episode of Scrubs: “I matched every symptom listed in the episode. * Extreme weight loss * Unstoppable thirst * Peeing all the time….Still need to thank [Scrubs creator] Bill Lawrence for possibly saving my life.” Another Reddit user went to his optometrist for vision problems and wound up in the emergency room.

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Liz’s story

Liz T. from Buffalo, NY, who works as a project manager, has type 1 diabetes. She was experiencing symptoms she didn’t know were indicative of type 1 for a few months leading up to her diagnosis. “I was really tired a lot, but it seemed to correspond to the afternoon slump anybody has at work. I would eat M&Ms to try to wake myself up, and yet I’d fall asleep staring at my computer screen,” she said. Like a lot of people with diabetes, she found herself losing weight without knowing why: “I just assumed that I was lucky, or that the few/occasional healthy habits I had were paying off HUGE. I would never question something so wonderful.”

Another common symptom of diabetes includes drinking water. Like, a lot of water. “I LOVED water. It’s so delicious! It didn’t occur to me that I was thirsty, exactly, and I didn’t identify ‘thirst’ as a symptom—I just thought I really loved water and staying hydrated. Turns out when you are diabetes-thirsty, nothing tastes better than cold water. I’m sure during that time I raved to many coworkers about how tasty water was,” Liz added.

Type 1, Type 2, or...?

Interestingly, this misdiagnosis seems to be a common issue. A recent study from the University of Exeter found that 38 percent of patients who were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after age 30 actually had type 1. Even more confusingly, some people with symptoms of type 2 diabetes may actually have a condition that’s more closely related to type 1 called latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA).

Getting the right diagnosis is crucial too, but how do you know when it’s time to see your doctor?

Know the signs

First, if you have health concerns, or if you have them after seeing the signs below, always consult with your doctor or qualified medical professional to help assess your condition. Now, you’ve probably guessed some of the symptoms from the stories above, but keep an eye out for these signs:

Type 1 symptoms

  • Increased hunger and thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision

Type 2 symptoms

  • Increased hunger and thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Sores that are slow to heal, or frequent infections
  • Darker skin on your neck or armpits

Bottom line: Whatever your symptoms, always check with your doctor, ask lots of questions, and make sure to complete routine bloodwork—doing so could save your life.

Tracy Majka

Tracy is a writer, editor, and longtime vegetarian who likes pie, biking, and hockey.
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