Tanzania: Don't Ignore the Early Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

One of my patients, in his 50's, let's name him Ben, came for a check-up last week complaining of blurred vision. According to Ben, he has been experiencing this for the past four months now. He was using over-the-counter eye drops but with zero relief. Ben has no family history of eye problems. I carried out some basic eye tests, which weren't of a help to draw out a conclusion or a cause, and that's when I referred Ben to an eye specialist for a comprehensive eye test and management. The results showed that the blood vessels at the back of his eyes were damaged.

This rose curiosity and we decided to run further tests which revealed that he has diabetic retinopathy; a medical condition whereby blood vessels at the back of Ben's eye are damaged due to existing high blood glucose, which later turns into diabetes.

He was terrified by the news since he has no family history of diabetes.

As a doctor I can confess that about 25 per cent of my diabetic patients are never aware that they have been living with the disease until it reaches a complicated stage. Why? Because they never paid attention to early signs and regular screening. Diabetes symptoms are easy to miss, but it's becoming more vital than ever to recognise the signs.

Diabetes symptoms can be difficulty to identify since they often come on slowly and can be mistaken with a lot of other issues; anybody could think that their symptoms are due to something else. People also may not visit their doctors as often as they should, which at times, they won't know that something is off.

Early detection is vital

Pay attention to the following signs, especially when they last for few months. Pay attention when you are constantly craving foods. It happens at times when you eat your meal but in a span of very short time, an increased hunger attacks you again. It is medically called polyphagia. Polyphagia is caused by the reduced ability to metabolise sugar, and since sugar is a key nutrient for every cell in the body, they become malnourished and signal the brain that more food is needed to keep the body functioning, which results in feelings of hunger. One should not confuse polyphagia with increased appetite; that's why it is advised to get medical advice if this persists.

But this also goes together with increased thirst. Normally the kidneys absorb glucose in the bloodstream and recycle it, making it available to supply the body's cells. When there is too much glucose in the bloodstream, the kidneys are not able to keep up with absorbing it and will simply discard it by excreting it in the urine. The increased urination that results can often cause dehydration and cause a person to feel thirsty.

And what about that explainable weight loss? Now you realise that diabetescan be very tricky! You get increased feelings of hunger, you eat a lot, yet you drastically lose weight and you can't even explain about it. Since the body is not able to process the sugar in the bloodstream, the body's cells that require it do not get the nourishment they need. In response the body will begin to tap into fat reserves that are stored in various areas, and as it is depleted to use for energy, weight loss can occur.

Diabetes is obviously a serious condition, so it's crucial to be aware of the sometimes subtle signs -- and to see your doctor if you have any concerns. We are however, advised to practice healthy lifestyle, let's be selective in what we take in, sugary and processed food are okay once in a while but when it becomes too much they put us at the risk of developing diabetes.

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