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Knowing symptoms of diabetes is key to diagnosis

November was American Diabetes Month. I know I've written about the subject, but it's something I'm experienced with, having been an insulin-dependent diabetic for 38 years. Last week, I was reminded of the details when I heard an educational speech by registered nurse Tereatha Nwankwo at a City of Thomson employee lunch.

Even though it's been years since my diagnosis, I will never forget how I felt. According to American Diabetes Association literature, the symptoms are frequent urination, unusual thirst, extreme hunger, extreme fatigue, irritability and weight loss. The words "frequent, unusual and extreme" are understatements.

If I could write an agenda for the day in the life of an undiagnosed diabetic, it would be: mouth feels like cotton, get a drink, go empty the bladder, repeat every 10 minutes, continue through the night.

No matter how much one drinks, the dry mouth does not go away. This leads to more drinking, which naturally leads to more trips to the bathroom. I remember being so incredibly thirsty everywhere we went and it seemed the water fountains didn't have enough water. It would take so-o-o long to get to the next place, i.e. the one-mile trip from school to home, to get the next drink. I was miserable.

Insulin is like a "key" that unlocks cells, allowing them to take in glucose for energy. "Normal" people have a pancreas that gives insulin when the body needs it. A Type 1 diabetic's pancreas does not work. So, the glucose floats around and builds up in the blood stream and the cells get worn out because they can't get the glucose. Those energy-starved cells start seeking their fuel elsewhere, so they break down the fat in the body, causing sudden weight loss.

Although most people would like to get rid of their fat, I don't recommend this method. It makes you downright sick. That's another understatement, because without treatment, the person can experience mental stupor that progresses to a comatose state.

Thankfully, the treatment is quick, cheap and easy -- an injection of insulin. But there is a hiccup -- unlike the "normal" pancreas that secretes insulin only when needed, the injected insulin has to go in on a regular schedule. This means there's got to be some glucose (or food) in the blood for the cells to grab when that insulin unlocks them. That's why diabetics have to eat regularly, and why things get a little hairy when we don't.

It's kind of difficult to keep one's dignity when your mental state is that of a drunk, even if the cause is too much insulin instead of alcohol. I've unknowingly embarrassed myself quite a few times over the years. I cringe when I hear the stories later, but I guess it's better than being in a coma. Occasionally, my sons like to re-enact various episodes and imitate my actions. We usually end up laughing until we can't breathe. When the episode is happening, they know the seriousness of it. But later, it is just plain funny.

I would like to thank everyone who has contacted me since my last diabetic column and told me about the insulin pump. I was on one for four years and know the advantages and disadvantages, and have been discussing it with my doctor again.

I don't know as much about Type 2 diabetes, which is the type controlled by oral medication and/or diet. So, if someone is experienced with it and would like to share their story, please send me an e-mail at lynn.davidson@mcduffie

And if you or anyone you know has symptoms for longer than one day, please go see a doctor. Preferably one with a water fountain on every hall.

Web posted on Thursday, December 03, 2009

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