I lost 30 pounds in just a few short weeks. Secretly, I loved it. Maybe that was why I waited so long to actually get my symptoms checked out.
Far too many nights I found myself wanting to rip my skin off. I was that uncomfortable. Hell, it wasn’t just in the evenings, it was all day, every day —even though I looked seemingly healthy.
The truth is, the extent of my entire existence consists of never feeling normal. So I chalk it up to bad luck as I make my way downstairs. I couldn’t sleep. Yes, I’ve always been an insomniac but this time, it felt different.
I open the fridge and abruptly chug —orange juice, apple juice, iced tea, diet coke, seltzer, and lemon water. Little did I know that my severe thirst was just one of many type one diabetes (t1d) symptoms. It’s funny because knowing what I know now, it seems as if my t1d has been laying just below surface my entire life.
When people have type one diabetes, their pancreas does not make enough insulin. Because of that lack of insulin, the sugar in your blood can’t pass through your body’s cells to be burned as energy, which is why I was tired all the time.
Instead, your blood sugar rises to a dangerously high level as sugar overflows through the kidneys into your urine. When sugar enters your urine, water is then pulled from the rest of your body as it leaves with the sugar. You’re essentially peeing out all of your vital nutrients. The result? Classic early symptoms of diabetes (more on that later).
Since kidneys flush out any extra glucose (sugar) into the urine when someone has high blood sugar levels, you will find that he or she will need to pee more often and in larger amounts.
Since you’re losing so much fluid from peeing, you can get very thirsty. Boy, can I attest to that.
Because of my severe thirst, I was peeing, what felt like, every five minutes. On top of it all, nothing would satisfy my palate. I was also always hungry. At the time, I did think it was a little strange. I would eat and eat and drink and drink, yet, I was actually losing weight.
Don’t even get me started on my racing heart and anxiety. Picture living in permanent panic attack mode.
Well, that’s how my insides felt, 24.7. The thing is, I’ve always struggled with anxiety, but again, this time, it felt different. I remember being in the shower one morning. It felt like every single nerve and muscle underneath my skin was convulsing.
I had no idea that the cramping, numbness, twitching, tingling, and painful spasms that my hands, legs, and toes were experiencing for months, was caused by a severe vitamin deficiency. Like I already said, I was peeing everything out.
The shower was just about the only place I felt OK —until now. I open the shampoo bottle as I lather some on my dark brown hair. My right arm lost control as I drop the container on the wet floor. I pick it up and pretend like that just didn’t happen.
Except, it started happening more frequently and in other places. I felt like I had no authority over my own body. Soon the toes in both of my feet began to twitch and cramp daily. My right toe became numb. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with sudden excruciating cramps, down my left leg. These symptoms did not resolve themselves. Things got progressively worse.
The numbness, twitches, spasms, and tingling sensations got more intense. The burning and numbing feeling in both feet and toes made shoes uncomfortable to wear. My fingers painfully locked, fanned out, and became stiff anytime, anywhere —while eating, driving, watching TV, and working out. My left knee suffered the most.
Soon my gait, walking, and running were affected. I was no longer a fast walker. I could no longer push myself when I ran. I couldn’t even walk up the stairs to get into bed without hurting. When I did try going upstairs, I felt short of breath and weak —like all I wanted to do was rest, yet, when it was actually appropriate to sleep, I was restless.
This is your body’s way of you telling you it needs something.
In my case, I needed sustenance. It wasn’t until I had three yeast infections in one month (after never having one EVER), that I knew it was time to make that overdue appointment with my doctor.
Want to know the kicker? Diabetic symptoms in women —and men —generally come on quickly. The primary difference between the two is that women usually experience vaginal yeast infections as a warning sign.
Ding, ding, ding.
When I arrive at the local clinic, I, of course, had to wait. I remember peeing six times in 20 minutes, which clearly is not normal, but at the time, it was for me.
The nurse calls me back (finally) as she sits me down and begins her check-list. I tell her my symptoms as she retrieves a blood sugar meter to check my glucose levels.
I remember her asking, “Does diabetes run in your family?”
I didn’t know. I never had too. A few minutes and a finger prick later, we had our answer. I had no idea that I was living the past several months high. And not in the drug sense. My blood sugar was over 600 —no wonder why I hurt all over.
Checking your blood sugar with a finger stick is an important part of controlling diabetes. It’s actually the only way for me to find out what my blood sugar levels are (hence its name). It’s useful for keeping track when your numbers are under control and when they aren’t.
When you are high blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia, there’s an excess of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. This means you ate something carby (something like pizza), and as a result, you’ll need to inject some insulin. When you are low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, there’s too little glucose (the body’s main energy source), and as a result, you’ll need to eat (or drink) something.
What different fasting blood sugar levels mean (before meals):
|Before Meals means:|
|0-70||Danger. Too low. Get sugar immediately.|
|70-90||Possibly too low. Get sugar if you feel hungry, nervous, or weak.|
|90-160||Normal. This is the ideal range.|
|160-240||Too high. Work on bringing blood sugar down.|
|240-300||This is very high and indicates that diabetes is out of control.|
|300-up||Danger. Call your doctor immediately.|
A few minutes go by and before I even know what’s happening, I’m being admitted as a patient at the Braxton County Memorial Hospital. Several tests later, I was officially diagnosed as a type one diabetic with an A1c of 14 (more on that below).
As I get comfortable (or at least attempt to), a nurse comes in to educate me on my new life. It was all just too much. My head was spinning (to say the least).
I learned another crucial component to keep track of diabetes is through a blood analysis called the “Hemoglobin A1c” test —often abbreviated as “A1c.” The test is a measure of what your average blood sugar levels have been over the past 3 months. It is thus a very powerful tool to gain an overall sense of how well diabetes has been controlled.
To give you a sense, an A1C level below 5.7 percent is considered normal. If you’re not a diabetic, chances are you’d fall in that range. An A1C between 5.7 and 6.4 percent signals pre-diabetes. If that’s you, consider consulting with a doctor to discuss your options, proactively. Finally, type one and two diabetes are diagnosed when the A1C is over 6.5 percent.
What different A1c levels mean:
|Hb A1c Blood Sugar Level||Within this range means:|
|6%-7%||This is the ideal range. Virtually no risk of complications|
|7%-8%||This is fine for most people. The risk of complications is very small.|
|8%-10%||This is quite high. The risk of complications becomes worrisome.|
|10%-up||This is dangerously high. The risk of complications is almost certain.|
Remember, I was 14. Ugh. The nurse leaves and I’m alone for a few minutes. I remember rearranging my IV cords and making my way to the bathroom —at least I had my own room. I recall looking in the mirror and thinking, something like, holy shit I feel like death. I wish I’d just die. And for the record, I looked like death too.
I felt like a wandering corpse with nothing left. Everything the nurse had just spoken about was running through my head at lightning speed. I felt like I’d never been able to enjoy eating again. I thought my life was over. She said I was lucky. If I had waited another week to come in, I would have been in a diabetic coma.
Diabetic ketoacidosis, also called DKA, is a serious complication of diabetes that occurs when your body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones. The condition develops when your body can’t produce enough insulin.
Insulin normally plays a key role in helping sugar (glucose) —a major source of energy for your muscles and other tissues —enter your cells. Without enough insulin, your body begins to break down fat as fuel. This process produces a buildup of acids in the bloodstream called ketones, eventually leading to diabetic ketoacidosis, if untreated.
I mean listen to these symptoms
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Fruity-scented breath
- Weakness or fatigue
- High blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia)
- High ketone levels in your urine
I had every single one of them and still, no one, including myself, knew how sick I really was. How’s that for an invisible illness? What I’m getting at is, recognizing the symptoms of type one diabetes is critical. It’s literally a matter of life and death.
Although type one develops gradually, as the body’s insulin production decreases, blood glucose levels can become dangerously high, once insulin production is outpaced. Symptoms may develop rapidly and can be mistaken for other illnesses such as the flu, even by doctors. A misdiagnosis can have tragic consequences.
Here’s what you need to look out for:
Frequent Urination: If you’re constantly running to the bathroom, your kidneys may be trying to rid your blood of excess sugar, resulting in an increased need to urinate.
Extreme thirst: Increased urination can then result in dehydration, which will leave you feeling more thirsty than normal.
Increased appetite: If you’re suddenly hungry all the time it may be because your body isn’t able to get proper energy from the food you’re eating.
Unexpected weight loss: Along the same lines, if your body is losing sugar in your urine instead of absorbing it, you may lose weight without even trying.
Fruity or sweet-smelling breath: This occurs when you have a high level of ketones in the blood, which can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (what I described above), if left untreated.
Drowsiness: If your body isn’t making enough insulin you won’t be able to get the energy you need from food. This can make you feel hungry and —understandably —lethargic.
I say all this because if you know what to look out for, you can actively do something about it. Don’t wait like I did. If you’re not feeling normal, chances are, you aren’t too far off. Because if you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream.