Type 2 diabetes mellitus is among the most common chronic diseases in the United States. Unfortunately, it is becoming more common.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus refers to a condition in which the body becomes resistant to insulin. An abdominal organ called the pancreas naturally produces insulin. The normal job of insulin is to promote the movement of sugar from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. Sugar is the body’s main form of energy. When the body becomes resistant to insulin, there is less energy available to the organs while sugar levels rise in the blood.
Many people do not recognize the symptoms of diabetes mellitus. Early recognition, however, can lead to early diagnosis and treatment to prevent the complications of diabetes.
As insulin resistance develops, sugar can no longer easily enter the body’s tissues. As a result, there is inadequate fuel for the body to function. This leads to tiredness. Many people with a new onset of diabetes or those with uncontrolled diabetes may experience chronic fatigue. Also, as the body begins to suffer from a lack of fuel, hunger levels may increase, leading to increased appetite and increased eating. Despite increased calorie intake, many people with new or poorly controlled diabetes may experience unintended or unexpected weight loss because energy in the form of sugar cannot enter the body’s tissues.
Since sugar cannot easily enter the cell, its level begins to rise in the bloodstream. This may cause sugar to “spill over” into the urine as its level rises, similar to how water spills over a dam. In fact, sugar is not normally found in the urine. The term “diabetes mellitus” refers to the old-fashioned way that diabetes was diagnosed, which was by tasting the urine for sweetness. It literally means “sugary urine.” As sugar spills over into the urine, it begins to pull water along with it. The result is an increase in urination. Many people may notice that they have to urinate more frequently, often getting up several times nightly.
Frequent urination in turn leads to a tendency toward dehydration. This activates the thirst mechanism, resulting in increased thirst and fluid intake.
As blood sugar levels rise, infection becomes more common. There are many reasons for this. First, sugar levels rise in the body’s secretions, including urine and mucus. Bacteria and yeast are attracted by sugar. Therefore, bacterial infections of the urine are common. Also, women may be prone to vaginal yeast infections. Occasionally, yeast infections of the mouth or skin may occur as well.
High blood sugar also weakens the immune system. This increases susceptibility to other infections such as pneumonia, kidney infection and bacterial blood infections.
The classic symptoms of diabetes mellitus include tiredness, unexpected weight loss, increased hunger, increased thirst and increased urination as well as a tendency for infections. People with such symptoms should seek prompt medical attention, which can lead to early diagnosis and treatment for diabetes to control these symptoms and to prevent complications.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.