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7 symptoms of diabetes every Singaporean needs to know

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Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed concern about the sobering diabetes situation in Singapore during our 2017 National Day Rally: Alarmingly, 1 in 9 Singaporeans has diabetes.

Diabetes is a lifelong disease – there is no cure for it and it is a disease that one can only control and cope with. If not managed well, diabetes can wreak havoc on the body and lead to seriously debilitating conditions such as nerve damage, blindness, heart disease and limb amputation. Due to the severe effects it can have on the body, prevention as well as early detection are the best ways to counter it.

Generally, there are three types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes (genetic and cannot be prevented), Type 2 diabetes (the most common type of diabetes – caused by lifestyle factors such as diet and a lack of exercise – that we need to prevent here) and gestational diabetes (occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away after the child is born. But a major caveat: it makes the mother more prone to develop Type 2 diabetes later on in life).

“What is Type 2 diabetes and what causes it?”

Type 2 diabetes is usually caused by lifestyle habits such as an overconsumption of sugary foods (soft drinks, sweet foods, carbohydrates) and a lack of exercise.

The glucose from the foods that you eat goes into your bloodstream and needs to be processed by your cells and broken down into energy. To do that, your cells require insulin.

When you consume too much sugary foods for a prolonged period of time, what happens is:

  • Your body tries harder to produce more insulin to process all that excess glucose
  • The pancreas (responsible for producing insulin) cannot keep up with the increased demands and the glucose stays in your blood, causing your blood sugar levels to spike
  • Over time, your body develops a resistance to insulin as it gets increasingly ineffective in helping to break down the glucose in your blood. Blood sugar levels continue to rise.

Type 2 diabetes is the silent killer we want to guard against, but its warning signs can be so mild that people often only find out they’re diabetic when they suffer from debilitating problems from the long-term damage the disease has caused to their body.

We’ve put together 7 symptoms of diabetes you need to know. This 3-min read will help you be better equipped to recognise the warning signs of diabetes: 

1. You feel extreme thirst, your mouth feels dry and you’re urinating frequently.

If you find that you still feel parched even when you’ve been drinking enough fluids, high blood sugar may be the culprit. This symptom gets worse if you had meals that are heavy in carbs, like rice, bread or pasta. Along with thirst, high blood sugar can also give you that dry, cotton-mouth feeling and make you visit the toilet more frequently. All these are part of dehydration, which is a real risk and also a major symptom of Type 2 diabetes.

Ongoing and prolonged high levels of blood sugar can cause serious damage to your nerves, blood vessels and organs. It can lead to a potentially deadly condition in which your body is unable to process glucose at all anymore, medically known as hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNS). You’ll pee more often, feel extremely thirsty – signs that you’re well on your way to becoming severely dehydrated.

2. You feel hungry and tired constantly even though you ate.

When you eat, your body converts the food into glucose. Your cells then convert glucose into energy – with the help of insulin. But diabetics don’t have enough or don’t respond well to insulin, so glucose cannot be converted into energy, resulting in fatigue and hunger.

3. You lost weight without any reason.

Sudden, unexplained weight loss refers to weight loss that occurs without any change to your diet or exercise routines. In diabetics, there is not enough insulin to process glucose in the blood to become energy. Whenever this occurs, the body starts burning fat and muscle for energy it requires for it to function, to make up for the lack of energy. This can cause a sudden reduction in body weight.

If you lost 5 kg or more within 6 months or less, it would be wise to see a doctor or go for a diabetes screening.

4. You feel a numbness or tingling sensation in your hands and feet

Numb and tingling hands and feet is extremely common and all of us must have experienced it at some point. Pins and needles, anyone? This sort of numbness is benign and temporary, caused by pressure on your nerves that is relieved once you remove that pressure causing it.

However, a tingling in the hands and feet can also mean something far more severe – a sign of nerve damage caused by diseases such as diabetes. It’s called diabetic neuropathy, meaning the nerves are slowly damaged starting from those farthest from the brain and spinal cord (i.e. hands, feet). This results in decreased mobility and even disability.

5. Your vision is blurry

Blurry vision is often an early indicator that your blood sugar levels are not normal. Diabetes can cause the narrowing of blood vessels in the body which in turn can lead to high blood pressure. The eyes’ blood vessels are most at risk. Because of that, diabetic patients are very prone to an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy, which is a serious retina disease that may result in blindness.

6. Slow healing wounds or cuts

If your body has difficulty metabolising glucose, it will cause blood sugar levels to spike. When your blood sugar levels are abnormally high, it will:

  • Prevent nutrients and oxygen from getting to the wounds
  • Prevent your immune system from functioning well
  • Cause inflammation in your cells and blood vessels, slowing down blood circulation

All the above will slow down the healing of your wounds and cuts. A small wound or blister on your foot can very quickly develop into a foot ulcer. If left untreated, the worst case scenario is a foot amputation.

7. You have dark, velvety patches appearing on the skin at your neck, armpits and/or groin area.

Fungal yeast infections in the form of brownish or black velvety patches may start to grow in the moist, fold areas of your skin. It is more frequently found in obese diabetic people who have increased levels of insulin in the blood. These skin infections are in fact a skin disorder called acanthosis nigricans that is one of the symptoms of diabetes.

“What should I do if I have any of the above diabetes symptoms?”

If you have the slightest suspicion at all, go for a blood glucose test at any time or after fasting.

The screening is either free-of-charge (for eligible Singapore citizens / green CHAS card) or subsidised at only $2 – $5 under Health Promotion Board’s Screen for Life programme at selected CHAS GP clinics.

If you prefer to get a blood test or a health screening done at private clinics, here is a brief list of the clinics you can go to (click on links to see more):

Every basic health screening would cover a blood glucose test to check for diabetes, so you may as well go for a full health screening while you’re at it.

Share this article with a friend or loved one if you felt this article was helpful and we will be on our way to combat the diabetes situation here together. Read more about diabetes in our Ultimate Guide to Preventing Diabetes in Singapore.

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