Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects people of all ages, including young individuals who are in their teens and early 20s. In this demographic, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can manifest, with type 2 (Diabetes Mellitus) often being asymptomatic and diagnosed during screenings for conditions like obesity or when signs of insulin resistance, such as Acanthosis Nigricans, are observed.
Analysing data from 2002 to 2017, researchers in the US have predicted that the number of young individuals (under the age of 20) with type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the country will increase from 213,000 in 2017 to 239,000 in 2060 if the incidence remains constant as observed in 2017. The results while focussed on youth of one nation indicate the need to recognise the symptoms and signs of diabetes, as early intervention can prevent complications.
In this article, we will delve into the symptoms, the importance of timely recognition, and the potential life-threatening complications associated with undiagnosed diabetes. To begin with, here are the first few signs that you need to watch out for:
Increased urination and thirst: One of the early signs of diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, is increased urination and excessive thirst. Young individuals experiencing a sudden spike in these symptoms should be vigilant, as this may indicate elevated blood sugar levels.
Unexplained weight loss: Another symptom to watch out for is unexplained weight loss despite a regular or increased food intake. Young people with diabetes may find that they are not gaining weight as expected, or they may even lose weight. This can be a red flag for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Fatigue: Feeling more tired than usual can be an indication of diabetes. The body's inability to effectively utilize glucose for energy can lead to persistent fatigue. Recognizing this symptom is essential for early intervention and effective management of the condition.
Blurred vision or changes in glasses prescription: Changes in vision, including blurred vision, can be associated with elevated blood sugar levels. It's important for young individuals to be attentive to alterations in their vision and seek medical attention promptly, especially if they wear glasses and notice changes in their prescription.
Importance of early recognition of diabetes
Recognizing the symptoms mentioned above is crucial, as they often become apparent once blood sugar levels exceed 200. If left undiagnosed and untreated at this stage, individuals, especially those with type 1 diabetes, may be at risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a life-threatening complication of diabetes.
What is diabetic ketoacidosis?
For individuals with type 1 diabetes, the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis is higher if symptoms go unrecognized.
Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when the body cannot use glucose for energy and starts breaking down fats, leading to the production of ketones. This results in a dangerous imbalance in the body's pH levels.
Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and a distinctive fruity odour on the breath. Prompt medical attention is crucial in managing diabetic ketoacidosis, as it can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.
The awareness of the symptoms and signs of diabetes in young people is essential for early detection and intervention. Increased urination, unexplained weight loss, persistent fatigue, and changes in vision should not be ignored, as they could be indicative of elevated blood sugar levels.
Timely recognition is especially vital to differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and prevent the development of diabetic ketoacidosis, a severe complication that demands immediate medical attention. Education and awareness in the community, along with routine screenings, can contribute to the early diagnosis and effective management of diabetes in young individuals, ensuring a healthier future for this demographic.
Dr. Vahid S. Bharmal is consultant- adult & paediatric endocrinologist at the Bhailal Amin General Hospital in Vadodara.