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Signs & Symptoms

The classical triad of diabetes symptoms is polyuria, polydipsia and polyphagia, which are, respectively, frequent urination; increased thirst and consequent increased fluid intake; and increased appetite. Symptoms may develop quite rapidly (weeks or months) in Type 1 diabetes, particularly in children. However, in Type 2 diabetes the symptoms develop much more slowly and may be subtle or completely absent. Type 1 diabetes may also cause weight loss (despite normal or increased eating) and irreducible fatigue. These symptoms can also manifest in Type 2 diabetes in patients whose diabetes is poorly controlled.

When the glucose concentration in the blood is raised beyond the renal threshold, reabsorption of glucose in the proximal renal tubuli is incomplete, and part of the glucose remains in the urine (glycosuria). This increases the osmotic pressure of the urine and inhibits the reabsorption of water by the kidney, resulting in increased urine production (polyuria) and increased fluid loss. Lost blood volume will be replaced osmotically from water held in body cells, causing dehydration and increased thirst.

Prolonged high blood glucose causes glucose absorption, which leads to changes in the shape of the lenses of the eyes, resulting in vision changes. Blurred vision is a common complaint leading to a diabetes diagnosis; Type 1 should always be suspected in cases of rapid vision change whereas Type 2 is generally more gradual, but should still be suspected.

Patients (usually with Type 1 diabetes) may also present with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), an extreme state of metabolic dysregulation characterized by the smell of acetone on the patient's breath; a rapid, deep breathing known as Kussmaul breathing; polyuria; nausea; vomiting and abdominal pain; and any of many altered states of consciousness or arousal (such as hostility and mania or, equally, confusion and lethargy). In severe DKA, coma may follow, progressing to death. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a medical emergency and requires hospital admission.

A rarer but equally severe possibility is hyperosmolar nonketotic state, which is more common in Type 2 diabetes and is mainly the result of dehydration due to loss of body water. Often, the patient has been drinking extreme amounts of sugar-containing drinks, leading to a vicious circle in regard to the water loss.

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