Diabetes Symptoms

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Diabetes Symptoms

Urination and Thirst

Two of the classic symptoms of diabetes - both type 1 and type 2 - are frequent urination and a seemingly insatiable thirst.  It may feel like all the moisture is being drained from your body, no matter how hard you try to replenish the supply.  Moderate thirst, and subsequent urination due to increased fluid intake, is a natural response to dehydration; obviously, it doesn't signal diabetes one hundred percent of the time.  But if your thirst seems excessive - you're waking in the night to drink, and can never seem to get enough - and it is accompanied by other symptoms such as unintentional weight loss and fatigue, it's worth a trip to the doctor for a thorough diabetes screening.

So what on earth do thirst (polydipsia) and frequent urination (polyuria) have to do with diabetes?  In a normal, healthy person, the hormone insulin transfers sugar from the blood into the cells, where it is used for fuel.  But in people with diabetes, the sugar doesn't get properly distributed to the cells; instead the sugar level builds and builds in the blood.  When the sugar level reaches about 180 mg/dL (less than 100 mg/dL is considered normal), it begins to seep into the urine, drawing water with it.  This causes the person's body to produce, and consequently expel, more urine - making the person thirstier as a result.  Because the person drinks more in response to the excessive thirst, more urine is produced.  It's a vicious cycle.

If your thirst and frequent urination is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, call your doctor:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Blurry vision
  • Unusual irritability

Take note of a few things to tell your doctor: for example, how long have you been feeling abnormally thirsty?  Is it worse during a certain time of day?  Is it consistent?  Did it develop all of a sudden, or has it been gradually building?  Is anything else occurring in your body in conjunction with the thirst and urination?  Having the answers to all these questions ready will ensure that your doctor has all the information he or she needs to order tests and make a diagnosis. 

Thirst can be a result of many other factors than just diabetes.  If you are frequently thirsty, you should ask yourself a few questions before you worry about the possibility of diabetes:

  • Have I recently increased my salt intake or eaten unusually salty foods? (This can include pickles, sauerkraut, lunch meat, soy sauce, spice blends - anything with high sodium content.)
  • Have I recently consumed a spicy meal?
  • Have I lost more fluid that normal lately in the form of sweat, diarrhea, or vomiting?
Could any of my medicines/over-the-counter drugs be having a diuretic effect?

If your thirst and frequent urination is, in fact, a result of diabetes, it can be controlled - along with the other symptoms - with proper treatment.  In some cases, this includes medication such as insulin injections.  In other, milder cases, treatment is achieved by taking good care of your body: getting regular exercise, eating properly, maintaining a healthy weight and cholesterol level.  Whatever the treatment, you won't be doomed to suffer from insatiable thirst forever!


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