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Some patients with diabetes will experience weight loss as one of the symptoms. This article outlines the how unexplained weight loss is related to diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease in which patients lose the ability to properly metabolize glucose, a type of sugar. This causes patients to have high blood glucose levels, which can have several undesirable effects. Unexplained weight loss is one of several symptoms that can plague diabetics. While it is normal for people’s weights to fluctuate, if you lose a lot of weight, such as 10 pounds, without trying over a couple of weeks to months, then it could be a sign that there is something wrong.

Unexplained weight loss and disease

If you notice you are losing a lot of weight unexpectedly, it may be a warning that you have some sort of underlying disease. It is not normal to lose a large amount of weight in a small of amount time, and rapid weight loss could signal a range of problems including problems with your thyroid, metabolic disorders, or, in rare cases, cancer. It can also point to undiagnosed diabetes.

These are some of the symptoms besides weight loss that you should watch out for that can indicate to you that you have diabetes:

  • Polydipsia (feeling very thirsty)
  • Polyphagia (feeling very hungry)
  • Polyuria (having to urinate excessively)
  • Skin is itchy
  • Skin around neck and armpits is dark
  • Sores and bruises heal slowly
  • Yeast infections
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • Feeling irritable
  • Impaired or blurry vision

If you start to feel any of these symptoms alongside your weight loss, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

So what is the connection between diabetes and weight loss?

The connection between diabetes and weight loss can be explained by the disease mechanisms that lead to the development of diabetes. Diabetes can be categorized into 2 major subtypes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: in this type of diabetes, the pancreas no longer produces adequate levels of insulin, the hormone that is responsible for metabolism of glucose.
  • Type 2 diabetes: In this type of diabetes, while the pancreas continues to produce insulin, the cells of your body become resistant to the insulin that is there.

Therefore, in either case, cells are unable to metabolize glucose, which is broken down by cells as a source of energy. Since the cells no longer have energy due to a lack of glucose, they are, in essence, starved. This causes your cells to think that you are starving (even if you have just eaten) and they send a signal to your brain to start breaking down the fat and muscle in your body to provide energy. This can occur quite rapidly and leads to the unexplained weight loss. While patients with type 2 diabetes can have unexplained weight loss as one of their symptoms, it is much more common in people with type 1 diabetes.

Another reason why diabetes can lead to weight loss is that your kidneys start to work harder in order to get rid of the high levels of blood sugar in your body by producing lots of urine. When you urinate more often and you are not making up for the lost fluid by drinking more water, then you will become dehydrated. Additionally, you are taking away the fluid from your cells in order to form more urine, which is damaging for your cells. This causes the kidneys to use even more energy, which also contributes to weight loss.

Hyperthyroidism (high levels of thyroid hormone) is another potential link between diabetes and weight loss. It will well-known that patients with diabetes are more likely to develop thyroid disorders than people that don’t have diabetes. The thyroid is a gland that sets the metabolic rate of your body. In the case of hyperthyroidism, your body produces way too much hormone and that leads to weight loss.

Several complications are associated with hyperthyroidism that can contribute to even greater weight loss, including:

  • Hyperthyroidism can worsen blood glucose levels, causing your body to make your insulin.
  • Hyperthyroidism also causes your liver to make more glucose, which leads to even higher blood glucose levels.

Thus, high levels of thyroid hormone in your body due to hyperthyroidism can significantly worsen your diabetes. Since both hyperthyroidism and diabetes are associated with unexplained weight loss, having both together is even worse. In fact, some studies indicate that high levels of thyroid hormone in the body can indicate the presence of undiagnosed diabetes. Some of the other symptoms of hyperthyroidism include: sweating, tremor and symptoms that mimic diabetes.

Conclusion

Diabetes is a type of metabolic disorder, and therefore, uncontrolled diabetes can significantly affect the different metabolic aspects of our body, leading to unexplained weight loss. This occurs through a variety of mechanisms including high blood sugar, overworking of the kidneys, muscle breakdown and hyperthyroidism.

It is extremely important that if you find yourself losing weight and feeling any other symptoms associated with diabetes, that you seek help. People with diabetes can live long and healthy lives as long as their disease is under control.

  • American Diabetes Association. "2. Classification and diagnosis of diabetes." Diabetes care 39.Supplement 1 (2016): S13-S22.
  • American Diabetes Association. "Standards of medical care in diabetes—2016 abridged for primary care providers." Clinical diabetes: a publication of the American Diabetes Association 34.1 (2016): 3.
  • Steven, Sarah, et al. "Weight loss decreases excess pancreatic triacylglycerol specifically in type 2 diabetes." Diabetes Care 39.1 (2016): 158-165.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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