Losing weight without trying may seem great to some. But unexplained weight loss is not normal and can be a red flag for diabetes. Learn why diabetes can lead to weight loss and how to deal with it.
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Why Does Diabetes Cause Weight Loss?
Diabetes is a chronic disease and if left untreated, devastating. The symptoms are often so subtle, and sometimes gradual, that people don’t realize they are having them. There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and Pregnancy.
- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy tissues of the body and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The damage from these seizures causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin. Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but it usually develops in childhood or adolescence.
- Type 2 diabetes happens when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use it properly. People usually develop type 2 diabetes later in life. However, as childhood obesity increases, children increasingly develop type 2 diabetes. Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. This is the most common form.
- Gestational diabetes is pregnancy related and usually subsides after the baby is born.
In every form, diabetes works similarly. Most of what is eaten is broken down into a sugar called glucose and then released into the bloodstream. When blood sugar rises, it prompts the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to move glucose from the bloodstream to the body’s cells.If youIf you
When there isn’t enough insulin or the cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar remains in the bloodstream.If youWhen glucose doesn’t get into the cells, the body believes it is starving and finds a way to make up for it. It creates energy by burning fat and muscle quickly. This leads to unexplained weight loss in people with diabetes.If youIf you
When sugar builds up in the blood, the kidneys also start working overtime to clear the excess in the blood. This process uses extra energy and can damage the kidneys.
How Much Weight Loss is a Problem?
Unexplained weight loss is when someone loses a significant amount of weight without diet, exercise, or other lifestyle changes.
If doctors lose 10 pounds or more, or 5% of body weight, over a period of six to 12 months, there is a health problem.If youIf you
Unexplained weight loss is the most common and is more severe in people aged 65 and over. People in this age group may need to see their doctor if they lose less than 10 pounds or less than 5% of their body weight without trying.
Weight loss in children
Unexplained weight loss can occur in people with type 2 diabetes, but is more common in people with type 1 diabetes. When type 1 diabetes occurs, it usually affects children and adolescents. Parents are often the first to notice unusual weight loss in a child with type 1 diabetes.If youIf you
Weight loss in children can also occur in children with normal or increased appetite for the same reasons as in adults with diabetes. Once children are diagnosed and treated for diabetes, weight loss stops and usually returns to normal.
The symptoms of diabetes are often too subtle and gradual for people to recognize. Weight loss is just an indicator.
Excessive thirst or hunger and urinating are tell-tale signs of diabetes. These symptoms can be especially dangerous if left untreated as they can lead to dehydration.
Prolonged dehydration can cause:
- a headache
- Rapid breathing
Dehydration also causes someone to pee less often, which causes excess blood sugar to build up in the bloodstream. In this case, the blood sugar level rises too quickly.
Look out for these other signs of diabetes as well:If youIf you
- Itchy skin: Diabetes can make someone prone to dry skin. High blood sugar can cause this. Skin infections or poor blood circulation can also lead to dry, itchy skin.If youIf you
- Dark skin around the neck and armpits: Dark skin in the folds of the neck and over the ankles sometimes occurs prior to a diagnosis of diabetes. Insulin resistance can cause this condition known as acanthosis nigricans.
- Cuts and bruises that won’t heal: Long-term high or poorly controlled blood sugar can lead to poor circulation and nerve damage. Poor blood circulation and nerve damage can make it difficult for the body to heal. The feet are the most vulnerable. These open wounds are known as diabetic skin ulcers.If youIf you
- Yeast Infections: When blood sugar is high and the kidneys cannot filter it well enough, sugar ends up in the urine. More sugar in a warm, humid environment can cause urinary tract infections and yeast infections, especially in women.
- Unusual fatigue: Several underlying causes of fatigue can be due to high sugar levels, including dehydration (from frequent urination that can disrupt sleep) and kidney damage.
- Mood swings: This can include irritability.
- Visual disturbances: People with diabetes may have trouble reading or seeing distant objects early on. In the later stages of diabetes, they may see dark, floating spots or streaks that resemble cobwebs.If youIf you
Other symptoms of diabetes in children
Similar to adults, the first signs of diabetes in children are increased urination and thirst. When blood sugar is high, it triggers a reaction in the body that draws fluid from the tissues. As a result, a child becomes constantly thirsty, they will drink more fluids, which leads to the need for more toilet breaks during the day. Dehydration in children is also a risk in this case.
In addition to showing signs of dehydration as adults, children may also experience the following symptoms:
- Sunken eyes or cheeks
- No tears when you cry
- Dry your mouth and tongue
- Not enough wet diapers
Here are some other characteristics of diabetes in children:If youIf you
- Fatigue: If a child is tired often, it could indicate that their body is having trouble converting sugar into energy in the bloodstream.
- Visual disturbances: High blood sugar levels can cause blurred vision and other visual disturbances.
- Fruity smelling breath: This could indicate too much sugar in the blood.
- Extreme hunger: When a child’s muscles and organs are not receiving enough energy, it can lead to extreme hunger.
- Unusual behavior: When a child appears more moody or restless than normal – and this in conjunction with the symptoms above – this can be cause for concern.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficult breathing
Diabetes can be life threatening if left untreated. If there is concern that a child is showing signs of diabetes, it is important to schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.
Coping with Weight Loss With Diabetes
Treatment for weight loss for diabetes begins with controlling blood sugar. Hence, it is important to consult a doctor to activate a treatment plan.
Some people’s diabetes can be managed through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. People with type 1 diabetes – and some with type 2 diabetes – need extra insulin or other medications to make sure their bodies get back on track.
Once someone has treated themselves for diabetes and their blood sugar levels normalize, their weight loss usually stabilizes. It is important to keep monitoring diabetes at home and with a doctor as it is a lifelong condition.
A word from Verywell
It is important to remember that unexplained weight loss is not normal. If you or your child lose weight and don’t know why, contact your doctor as soon as possible. In addition to diabetes, rapid, unexpected weight loss can be an indicator of other serious medical conditions, including cancer, AIDS, dementia, or thyroid dysfunction.