Diabetes is, unfortunately, common in the United States. The disease originates when an organ in the body called the pancreas is unable to properly produce insulin, which helps the body regulate and use sugar in the blood. With current treatments and medications often producing excellent results, diabetes is not a terrifying disease if it is treated and well-managed.
Seeing the signs, though, can be difficult if you are not looking for them. If a senior you know or care for has a family history of diabetes, which is one of the highest signs of risk for getting the disease, watch out for these six symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes. If this sounds like your loved one, make an appointment with their primary care doctor for a diabetes screening.
- Diabetes and gum disease often go hand-in-hand, and each makes the other more difficult to manage. If your senior's gums bleed during brushing or flossing, are very tender and swollen, or have begun to pull away from teeth (revealing more tooth and even the root), take your senior to a dentist. If the dentist confirms gum disease, you may need to have them screened for diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, high blood sugar levels caused by uncontrolled diabetes can exacerbate gum disease, which can open up issues in controlling blood sugar levels. It becomes a terrible cycle unless controlled immediately.
Extreme or excessive thirst
- Many people make a habit of drinking lots of water, which is a very good practice in general because it promotes hydration, toxin removal, and overall health. However, an excess of 64 ounces of water a day can cause more harm than good and can be a sign of undiagnosed diabetes. The body is requesting more water to help it expel excess sugar in the blood, which means that the body is not using the sugar that it gets very well. A senior who drinks water constantly yet still remains thirsty may be trying to cope with untreated diabetes and should be looked at by a doctor.
Rapid weight loss
- Many seniors do lose weight as they age, or lose weight when adopting healthier living habits or changing medications. If your senior's habits stay the same, but they continue to shed weight quickly, have them seen by a doctor. If the weight loss is slower and more gradual, it is something to monitor over several months and may not be cause for alarm, but keep an eye on it.
- As the body accumulates sugar in the blood as a result of uncontrolled diabetes, one way it copes is by flooding urine with sugar and urinating frequently to attempt to get rid of it. A common method of testing for diabetes is to look for large amounts of sugar in urine as a result of this tactic. If your senior urinates more than a few times a day, or suddenly begins urinating more frequently despite no other lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, medication, etc.), it may be time to get him or her checked.
Flu-like vomiting or stomach pain
- Although the flu is something that affects many people worldwide each year, seniors often are first in line to get vaccinated. This prevents many of them from catching the flu, which can devastate an aging immune system much more harshly than a youthful one. Most seniors will, however, be fine with close monitoring and lots of fluids. If your senior gets the flu vaccine and gets the flu anyway, especially, or has flu-like symptoms for longer than a few days, he or she should be seen by a doctor who can look at the person's blood sugar levels, which may be causing these very unpleasant symptoms.
Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- The Mayo Clinic notes that the high amounts of sugar in the blood, a result of untreated diabetes, can damage nerves. This can produce a tingling or numbness, especially in the hands and feet. Although there are other causes of nerve damage in the elderly, diabetes is well-known for causing enough damage to patients that, if not caught and treated in time, amputation may be recommended. To prevent this from becoming a reality, see a doctor as soon as any tingling or numbness in the extremities is noticed in your senior.
American Diabetes Association. Warning Signs. (2014, April 17). Available at http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/oral-health-and-hygiene/warning-signs.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
International Diabetes Foundation. Signs and symptoms of diabetes. Available at http://www.idf.org/signs-and-symptoms-diabetes. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Diabetes symptoms: When diabetes symptoms are a concern. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-symptoms/art-20044248?pg=2. Retrieved February 25, 2016.