Written by Elizabeth Jenson, BSc, MBA on February 9, 2020.
Here’s a scary stat: according to the IDF, someone in the world is estimated to die from diabetes or its complications every seven seconds. It gets worse; not only is the global prevalence of diabetes rising – to 9.9% of the population by 2045, but research shows that some 50% of all individuals with diabetes are undiagnosed! When left untreated, diabetes can lead to severe health complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney, and nerve damage. If you’re a man, you might need to be more worried still – research shows that men have higher rates of diabetes. Are you a male and concerned that you may be part of that oblivious 50%? Continue reading to find out the early signs of diabetes in men to keep an eye out for.
What is diabetes?
But wait – what is diabetes, exactly? Well, it’s a metabolic disorder in which your body can’t produce sufficient insulin, can’t use insulin, or a mix of both – resulting in abnormally elevated levels of blood glucose (also known as hyperglycemia). There are two main types of diabetes in men:
- Type 1 diabetes – Only about 5% of those with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. This form of diabetes is essentially an autoimmune disease where patients' bodies can't produce insulin at all, and as such, can't regulate blood glucose levels. While the causes of type 1 diabetes remain unknown, it's believed that genetic factors play a significant role. Type 1 is treated by injecting insulin or using a pump multiple times a day.
- Type 2 diabetes – The most common form of diabetes, type 2 diabetes, affects nearly 90 – 95% of the 13 million men diagnosed with diabetes. While type 2 diabetics do produce insulin, the hormone produced by the body is either not sufficient or doesn't work correctly. Type 2 diabetes is often linked to being overweight or inactive. Some people can keep this form of diabetes under control with a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and, if necessary, weight loss.
Early signs of diabetes in men
Typically, the signs of type 1 diabetes in men are the same as the signs of type 2 diabetes in men; only, while the symptoms associated with type 1 come on suddenly (over days or weeks), type 2 can take years to present its signs. So – how do you know when your body is warning you that it might be time to head to your doctor’s office for a test? Here are 12 early signs of diabetes to note:
#1 – You’re suddenly peeing a lot
When you have excess sugar circulating through your bloodstream, your body instinctively attempts to get rid of it. How? Through urine, of course! If you notice that you’re suddenly passing out large volumes of urine, and more often, for no real reason – especially if you’re waking up more than once during the night to go, it’s time to schedule a visit to your doctor.
#2 – You can’t stop drinking water
Due to the high-volume urine loss from all that frequent urination, dehydration becomes a genuine possibility. If, despite your best efforts to stay hydrated with bottles of water throughout the day, you still feel like your thirst can't be quenched, you may have diabetes. In addition to extreme thirst, other signs of dehydration to look out for include dark-colored urine and an unexplained drop in (water) weight. You should be extra worried if this symptom occurs in tandem with lots of bathroom breaks.
#3 – Your breath smells awful
Diabetes-related hydration can contribute to dry mouth, and in the absence of saliva to wash away bacteria and balance the pH in your mouth, your breath will start to stink. You may be surprised to hear this, but you also need to be on high alert if you notice that your breath starts to smell unpleasantly sweet or fruity. Undiagnosed diabetes can trigger your body to go into ketosis, a process in which your body uses fat – rather than glucose – for energy. This process releases a chemical byproduct known as ketones, which contribute to the abnormally sweet-smelling breath you have. Unless you're on a keto diet, which is designed to put you into ketosis, it's worthwhile talking to your doctor.
#4 – Your vision’s getting increasingly blurry
As your blood sugar levels rise, fluid can form in your eye’s lens. The buildup of liquid in the eye blurs vision and causes nearsightedness. If you haven’t had to visit the optometrist for new glasses or contacts prescription in a long time, but suddenly notice difficulties focusing visually, you may be dealing with undiagnosed diabetes. Want to hear some good news? Well, getting your blood glucose levels under control can clear up blurred vision.
#5 – Your limbs fall asleep a lot more frequently
According to a 2017 Diabetes Care review, neuropathy – a condition characterized by numbness or weird sensations like pins and needles in your arms, legs, hands, and feet – occurs in more than 50% of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. That’s because diabetes reduces blood flow to your limbs and, over time, damages your nerves and blood vessels.
#6 – Your wounds take forever to heal
Once you have an injury, such as a cut or bruise, uncontrolled diabetes can make it harder for you to heal. That's because the elevated blood glucose levels provide a fantastic environment for bacteria to grow. Also, chronic health conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol tend to accompany diabetes – the resulting plaque buildup can narrow blood vessels, thereby reducing blood supply and lead to slow healing. That's not all, either. Diabetes can also weaken your body's defense against infection by weakening the T-cells that make up your immune system, prolonging the time required for your body to heal your wounds.
#7 – You’re losing weight without even trying
Diabetes is one of the primary reasons for unexplained weight loss. That's because, with the condition, your body is unable to efficiently move sugar from your blood to your cells, which means you don't get enough energy to your body despite having all that excess sugar flowing through your body. And because you're unable to obtain enough energy from glucose, your body is forced to burn your fat and muscle to fuel itself. As you can imagine, this can lead to significant weight loss. If you've unintentionally dropped a few jean sizes over six months, you're advised to visit the doctor.
#8 – You get enough sleep, but you’re still so tired
Carbohydrates, which your body breaks down into the glucose that circulates in your bloodstream, are your primary source of energy. But when you have diabetes, your body can't effectively make use of that 'fuel' to help you power through the day. If you’ve been clocking more than 7 hours of sleep a night, yet still feel exhausted and experience some of the other diabetes symptoms mentioned in this article, it’s worth getting your extreme fatigue checked out.
#9 – You’re having difficulties getting or staying hard
One of the early signs of diabetes unique to men is that of erectile dysfunction (ED), where you cannot achieve or maintain an erection for long enough to have mutually-satisfying intercourse. Research shows that half of the men diagnosed with diabetes get ED, and are also three times more likely than men without diabetes to suffer from ED. If you've never had issues performing in bed, but suddenly notice difficulties getting it up in bed, diabetes may be the reason. Do double-check with your primary health care doctor to be sure.
#10 – You suffer from recurrent genital thrush
High blood glucose creates an environment in your body that’s ripe for yeast infections – particularly around your genital region. Think of sugar as fuel for yeast; the more that’s around, the more yeast can multiply. So if you notice that you’re dealing with yeast infections more than a couple of times every few months, you might want to bring up the possibility of diabetes with your doctor. Here are some of the symptoms associated with genital thrush (yeast infections):
- Redness on or around the head of your penis
- Swelling on or around the head of your penis
- Itching on or around the head of your penis
- Unpleasant odor
- A white curd-like appearance on the skin
- Soreness during sex
#11 – You’re having issues with premature ejaculation
Along with the sexual problem of erectile dysfunction, diabetes has also been linked with premature ejaculation (PE). Also known as rapid ejaculation, PE is typically defined as ejaculation that happens sooner than a man or his partner would like. According to a study in European Urology, 23% of diabetic men studied reported suffering from premature ejaculation.
#12 – You’re experiencing decreased sex drive
When you have diabetes, you’re more likely to have low testosterone levels (‘low T’). Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone responsible for stimulating sperm production as well as a man’s sex drive. If you find that you’re unusually disinterested in having sexual relations with your partner, or anyone else, you may need to worry about the possibility of diabetes.
Nodded your head to a few of the early signs of diabetes in men as outlined above? It's time for you to get a blood test at the doctor! If you have elevated blood glucose levels and are found at risk for diabetes, making suitable lifestyle changes might be able to prevent it from developing into a full-blown diabetes condition. And even if you're diagnosed with either type 1 or 2 diabetes, take note that you can still live well with the disease; it's not a death sentence. With healthy lifestyle modifications and proper medications, you might be able to keep the chronic condition under control and manage complications. Just remember: being proactive is vital! See the doctor ASAP.