The warning signs can be so mild that you don't notice them. That's especially true of type 2 diabetes. Some people don't find out they have it until they get problems from long-term damage caused by the disease.
With type 1 diabetes, the symptoms usually happen quickly, in a matter of days or a few weeks. They're much more severe, too.
Both types of diabetes have some of the same telltale warning signs.
Hunger and fatigue. Your body converts the food you eat into glucose that your cells use for energy. But your cells need insulin to bring the glucose in.
If your body doesn't make enough or any insulin, or if your cells resist the insulin your body makes, the glucose can't get into them and you have no energy. This can make you more hungry and tired than usual.
Peeing more often and being thirstier. The average person usually has to pee between four and seven times in 24 hours, but people with diabetes may go a lot more.
Why? Normally your body reabsorbs glucose as it passes through your kidneys. But when diabetes pushes your blood sugar up, your kidneys may not be able to bring it all back in. This causes the body to make more urine, and that takes fluids.
You'll have to go more often. You might pee out more, too. Because you're peeing so much, you can get very thirsty. When you drink more, you'll also pee more.
Dry mouth and itchy skin. Because your body is using fluids to make pee, there's less moisture for other things. You could get dehydrated, and your mouth may feel dry. Dry skin can make you itchy.
Blurred vision. Changing fluid levels in your body could make the lenses in your eyes swell up. They change shape and lose their ability to focus.
These tend to show up after your glucose has been high for a long time.
Slow-healing sores or cuts. Over time, high blood sugar can affect your blood flow and cause nerve damage that makes it hard for your body to heal wounds.
Pain or numbness in your feet or legs. This is another result of nerve damage.
Unplanned weight loss. If your body can't get energy from your food, it will start burning muscle and fat for energy instead. You may lose weight even though you haven't changed how you eat.
Nausea and vomiting. When your body resorts to burning fat, it makes “ketones.” These can build up in your blood to dangerous levels, a possibly life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. Ketones can make you feel sick to your stomach.
If you're older than 45 or have other risks for diabetes, it's important to get tested. When you spot the condition early, you can avoid nerve damage, heart trouble, and other complications.
As a general rule, call your doctor if you:
Early symptoms of diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, can be subtle or seemingly harmless — that is, if you even have symptoms at all. Over time, however, you may develop diabetes complications, even if you haven't had diabetes symptoms.
In the United States alone, more than 8 million people have undiagnosed diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. But you don't need to become a statistic. Understanding possible diabetes symptoms can lead to early diagnosis and treatment — and a lifetime of better health. If you're experiencing any of the following diabetes signs and symptoms, see your doctor.
Excessive thirst (also called polydipsia) and increased urination (also known as polyuria) are classic diabetes symptoms.
When you have diabetes, excess sugar (glucose) builds up in your blood. Your kidneys are forced to work overtime to filter and absorb the excess sugar. If your kidneys can't keep up, the excess sugar is excreted into your urine, dragging along fluids from your tissues. This triggers more frequent urination, which may leave you dehydrated. As you drink more fluids to quench your thirst, you'll urinate even more.
You may feel fatigued. Many factors can contribute to this. They include dehydration from increased urination and your body's inability to function properly, since it's less able to use sugar for energy needs.
Weight fluctuations also fall under the umbrella of possible diabetes signs and symptoms. When you lose sugar through frequent urination, you also lose calories. At the same time, diabetes may keep the sugar from your food from reaching your cells — leading to constant hunger. The combined effect is potentially rapid weight loss, especially if you have type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes symptoms sometimes involve your vision. High levels of blood sugar pull fluid from your tissues, including the lenses of your eyes. This affects your ability to focus.
Left untreated, diabetes can cause new blood vessels to form in your retina — the back part of your eye — and damage established vessels. For most people, these early changes do not cause vision problems. However, if these changes progress undetected, they can lead to vision loss and blindness.
Doctors and people with diabetes have observed that infections seem more common if you have diabetes. Research in this area, however, has not proved whether this is entirely true, nor why. It may be that high levels of blood sugar impair your body's natural healing process and your ability to fight infections. For women, bladder and vaginal infections are especially common.
Excess sugar in your blood can lead to nerve damage. You may notice tingling and loss of sensation in your hands and feet, as well as burning pain in your arms, hands, legs and feet.
Diabetes may weaken your ability to fight germs, which increases the risk of infection in your gums and in the bones that hold your teeth in place. Your gums may pull away from your teeth, your teeth may become loose, or you may develop sores or pockets of pus in your gums — especially if you have a gum infection before diabetes develops.
If you notice any possible diabetes signs or symptoms, contact your doctor. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin. Diabetes is a serious condition. But with your active participation and the support of your health care team, you can manage diabetes while enjoying an active, healthy life.