Can Diabetes Symptoms Develop Suddenly?
I haven't experienced any symptoms of diabetes in the past, but just in the last week or so, I have seen a dramatic increase in my urination frequency: I have to go about once an hour. And I seem to be constantly thirsty. Is it possible that symptoms of diabetes could materialize virtually overnight? Name Withheld
Janis McWilliams, RN, MSN, CDE, BC-ADM, responds: Yes, in type 1 diabetes in particular, the onset of symptoms like frequent urination and extreme thirst can be very sudden. In type 2 diabetes, the symptoms tend to come about more gradually, and sometimes there are no signs at all. People who have symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately for an accurate diagnosis. Keep in mind that these symptoms could signal other problems, too.
In type 1 diabetes, other symptoms to watch for include unexplained weight loss, lethargy, drowsiness, and hunger. Symptoms sometimes occur after a viral illness. In some cases, a person may reach the point of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) before a type 1 diagnosis is made. DKA occurs when blood glucose is dangerously high and the body can't get nutrients into the cells because of the absence of insulin. The body then breaks down muscle and fat for energy, causing an accumulation of ketones in the blood and urine. Symptoms of DKA include a fruity odor on the breath; heavy, taxed breathing; and vomiting. If left untreated, DKA can result in stupor, unconsciousness, and even death.
Type 2 diabetes usually has a slower onset and can often go undiagnosed. But many people do have symptoms like extreme thirst and frequent urination. Other signs include sores that won't heal, frequent infections (including vaginal infections in some women), and changes in vision. Some patients actually go to the doctor with symptoms resulting from the complications of diabetes, like tingling in the feet (neuropathy) or vision loss (retinopathy), without knowing they have the disease. This is why screening people at risk for diabetes is so important. The best way to avoid complications is to get blood glucose under control before
A final note about type 1: Some people have a "honeymoon" period, a brief remission of symptoms while the pancreas is still secreting some insulin. The honeymoon phase typically occurs after insulin treatment has been started. A honeymoon can last as little as a week or even up to a year. But the absence of symptoms doesn't mean the diabetes is gone. The pancreas will eventually be unable to secrete insulin, and, if untreated, the symptoms will return.