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Diabetes Symptoms and Diagnosis

Learning to recognize the symptoms of diabetes is an important way to detect the condition early, begin proper blood sugar control, and prevent the onset of short-term and long-term complications. Many of our recommended books address diabetes symptoms.

Often times, no symptoms are present at all and diabetes is simply diagnosed by a routine blood or urine test. When diabetes symptoms do present themselves, they often have a classic appearance:

The classic symptoms of diabetes are:

  • excessive urination, including frequent trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night
  • intense thirst and hunger
  • severe fatigue.
Other symptoms of diabetes may include:
  • dry skin
  • blurred vision
  • unexplained weight loss
  • thin, malnourished appearance.
While the presence of these symptoms alone is not diagnostic for diabetes, if you have any of the symptoms listed above you should contact your doctor to test for diabetes. Several tests are available to assess your risk of diabetes. Find out about diabetic products for less painful testing.

Why excessive urination and thrist?Diagnosing Diabetes: The Glucose Tolerance Test and Others
When diabetes symptoms are present your doctor may perform one of more procedures used to test for diabetes. Most of them are blood tests that seek to confirm high blood glucose levels when compared to normal blood glucose levels. Urine tests are often used as a screening test for diabetes since high blood glucose often results in glucose spilling into the urine.

The amount of glucose in your blood is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). Below you'll find descriptions of the more common diabetes tests, and what their results mean.

Fasting Plasma Glucose Test
One of the more common tests for diabetes, the fasting plasma glucose test, measures blood glucose after a 12- to 14-hour fast. Fasting prompts the body to release glucagon, a hormone that acts to raise normal blood glucose levels. In the non-diabetic, insulin is released to bring the high blood glucose back down to a normal level. This doesn't occur in the body of a person with diabetes. Normal blood glucose levels after a fast should be in the range of 70–100 mg/dl. A blood glucose reading of 126 mg/dl or higher suggests diabetes; with high results the test will often be repeated. If the blood glucose results of a second test measure 126 mg/dl or higher, a diagnosis of diabetes is usually confirmed.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test
Like the fasting plasma glucose test, an oral glucose tolerance test is performed after fasting. The patient drinks a glucose solution, and blood tests are taken several times over the course of a three-hour period. If insulin production is within normal limits, blood glucose should rise over the first hour to 160-180 mg/dl, and then drop back to normal. If diabetes is present, the high blood glucose level will take much longer to drop.

Here's what the test results of the blood drawn two hours after drinking the glucose solution indicate:
  • A reading below 140 mg/dl is normal.
  • A reading between 140 and 199 mg/dl indicates glucose intolerance.
  • A reading of 200 mg/dl or more reveals diabetes.
Random Plasma Glucose Test
A random plasma glucose test is just that: random. It can be done at any time, although results are not always as conclusive or reliable as the fasting tests. A result of 200 mg/dl or more indicates diabetes.

Urine Testing
Urine testing measures the level of glucose in the urine, and positive results can indicate diabetes. Using urine to measure glucose levels is not as effective or precise as blood tests, however. Urine testing is more commonly performed to examine ketone levels. When the body doesn't have access to glucose for energy, it begins to break down fats. Ketones are chemical compounds that result from the breakdown of fat. They are toxic, and can kill cells. Left unchecked, high levels of ketones can cause diabetic coma.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2001). Diabetes public health resource: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved May 15, 2001, from www.cdc.gov/diabetes/faqs.htm.

National Institutes of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases. (nd). Diabetes. Retrieved May 15, 2001, from www.niddk.nih.gov/health/diabetes/diabetes.htm.

Old Dominion University, School of Nursing. (1999). Diabetes mellitus planner: September 9, 1999.
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