Steve knew he didn’t eat well. His cholesterol and blood sugar were high, but his weight wasn’t too bad and he was relatively young, so he didn’t worry too much about it. He couldn’t seem to find the energy to exercise, preferring to snack on chips as he watched television after work. He also found himself under some stress as the bills began to pile up without enough coming in. Things had always worked themselves out in the past, and he was pretty sure they would this time, too. He awoke one morning to find himself shaky but no symptoms of anything otherwise. Shrugging it off, he went about his morning routine, one that never included breakfast. During the drive to work, the shakiness got worse. He thought it might go away after he got out of the car. Two hours later he felt he couldn’t breathe. His co-workers asked about pain in his chest or arms, trying to discern if he was having a heart attack, plying him to go to the hospital. He finally relented and spent most of the day in the emergency room.
A huge battery of tests, a CAT scan and an MRI later, the doctors were at a loss. His pulse was still high and he was exhausted, but the hospital released him with some anti-anxiety medication and orders to call his personal physician for a follow-up. An hour later, Steve’s cell rang. It was one of the doctors from the hospital, saying, “I forgot to mention that you need to tell your doctor about the diabetes, the high blood sugar.” Steve agreed and hung up, only then allowing what the doctor had said to sink in. “High blood sugar? I don’t have diabetes.”
But two trips to the local physician and several tests later confirmed that he did.
There were a number of frightening aspects of Steve’s experience. One was that the doctors could find nothing to cause his frightening symptoms, the only test showing anything unusual being the glucose test. Another was that the hospital doctors nearly forgot to tell him about it. But most frightening, Steve has no symptoms of diabetes.
The symptoms are pretty well known. Frequent urination? Steve has the opposite problem. Constant thirst? He never drinks water. Never. He has a cup of coffee, maybe a couple sodas, and maybe a glass of tea or two. That’s it. Weight changes? His weight has stayed within about a pound range for a good 10 years. Weakness and fatigue? Before this day, he never remembered feeling this way. He typically sleeps about 6 hours a night and take a weekend nap maybe once a month. Always sick, have trouble healing, feel itchy, blurry vision? Nope. Nothing. Steve has no symptoms of diabetes except high glucose numbers.
So with no symptoms, how could he have known he was at risk, and how could he have prevented it? He should have been aware of his family history, and in fact he was. His grandmother developed diabetes when she was in her early 50s. This is one risk factor. Although he wasn’t terribly overweight, the lifestyle choices he made probably led to it, as well. The lack of exercise and poor diet had obviously already affected his health. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are both dangerous on their own but also increase the risk of developing diabetes. His age, over 40, also puts him more at risk.
Had Steve developed healthier habits earlier in his life, would he still have diabetes? It’s possible, but it is less likely. What is certain is that his quality of life would have improved then as well as now, without high blood pressure, with less stress, and without diabetes. That’s one trip to the emergency room that could have been avoided.
American Diabetes Association. “Diabetes Basics.” Diabetes.org.