Diabetes is a term used to describe several health conditions that affect how your body uses sugar, also called glucose. They are characterized by high blood sugar levels.
Some people have no symptoms, while for others, the symptoms can start slowly or come on suddenly.
Classic signs of diabetes include increased hunger, frequent urination, and increased thirst.
Knowing the signs of high blood sugar is important, so you can take steps early to prevent complications.
This article goes over the early signs and symptoms of diabetes and when it is time to seek medical attention.
Early Signs of Diabetes
The signs of diabetes stem from too much sugar in your blood.
Glucose, another name for sugar, is what our bodies use to make energy and is the primary fuel source for your brain.
It is essential to have glucose in your body, but most of it should be in your cells, ready for use. Problems arise when glucose stays in your bloodstream.
In the early stages of diabetes, you may have mild to no symptoms.
The classic first symptoms of high blood sugar are:
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Increased urination
Symptoms also depend on what type of diabetes you have.
Type 1 diabetes generally starts at a young age; however, it is possible to begin at any age. Symptoms appear abruptly, and in addition to those listed above, the person may also experience weight loss.
Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults; however, younger ages are starting to see it more frequently.
People with type 2 diabetes tend to have mild or no symptoms. As a result, they may not know they have type 2 diabetes until their blood sugar is extremely high.
The following symptoms, even if mild, are worth talking to your licensed medical provider about.
They could use a simple lab test called A1C to measure your blood sugar level for the last three months.
Frequent trips to the bathroom to urinate are an early sign of diabetes.
Your kidneys usually try to prevent glucose from entering your urine.
However, when too much sugar is in your blood, your kidneys cannot keep it all out.
As the sugar leaks into your urine, it draws more water from your body, making your bladder fill up quickly.
Because the body is losing more water in the urine, a person with high blood sugar tends to dehydrate quickly.
Feeling the need to drink water frequently is another symptom of diabetes.
If you feel thirsty even though you are drinking large amounts of fluids, this could be an early sign of diabetes.
Because the glucose stays in the bloodstream rather than entering the cells to create energy, your cells send signals that they are hungry.
Even after you eat, the cells are not getting the needed nutrients, so you will still feel hungry.
A person with high glucose may even start to lose weight. This weight loss is because the body begins to burn energy reserves.
If you notice an increased appetite and desire to eat more, especially accompanied by weight loss, it could be an early indication of diabetes.
Feeling tired is another symptom of diabetes. Again, it stems back to the lack of sugar in the cells used for energy.
Billions of cells make up our bodies. Those cells are each a little machine. Without their fuel source (glucose), the cells become tired.
Dehydration and kidney damage from high sugar levels can also make you feel more tired.
Your eyes have tiny blood vessels that feed your lenses.
High glucose makes your blood thicker; think of the consistency of water versus syrup.
As this thick blood travels through the tiny blood vessels, a person can experience damage to their lenses, making their vision blurry.
If you notice a change in your vision, let your medical provider know so they can determine the source. Early management decreases further damage.
Slow healing of cuts and wounds
Tiny blood vessels feed your skin.
When you get a cut or wound, your skin heals itself by sending the needed components through the blood to that location to start rebuilding.
A person with elevated blood sugar has damaged circulation, making it harder to get the wound healing elements to the injured area. The result is slow wound healing.
Tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands or feet
High levels of glucose cause damage to nerve endings in a condition called neuropathy.
Diabetic neuropathy causes tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet. Other neuropathy symptoms include burning, sharp, or aching pain.
If not managed, neuropathy can lead to serious complications, including amputation of toes, feet, and the lower leg.
Patches of darker skin
Damage to small blood vessels in the skin causes the appearance of velvety dark patches.
Common locations include the armpits, neck, and groin.
If managed properly, these dark spots can clear up over time.
Itching and yeast infections
Yeast lives off sugar.
As we previously discussed, a person with elevated blood sugar has glucose spilling into their urine.
This increased sugar creates an environment where yeast likes to grow.
Frequent yeast or urinary tract infections are an early sign of diabetes.
Risk Factors of Diabetes
Now that you know the early signs and symptoms of diabetes, we will review factors that place you at higher risk for developing diabetes.
Knowing these and taking steps early to decrease your risks can prevent diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes
Risk factors for type 1 diabetes are not clear. However, researchers believe it to be an autoimmune reaction.
Known risk factors include:
- Having a parent, sister, or brother with type 1 diabetes
- Being a child, teen, or young adult
- Being of white ethnicity
Currently, researchers do not know how to prevent type 1 diabetes.
However, management will include taking daily insulin shots along with lifestyle and dietary modifications.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes results from cells being resistant to insulin and being unable to utilize it effectively.
You can prevent type 2 diabetes by making lifestyle changes to decrease your risk factors.
Here are the known risks:
- Having prediabetes
- Having excess weight
- Being 45 years or older
- Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
- Leading a sedentary life
- History of gestational diabetes during pregnancy
- Are African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, or Alaska Native person
Take steps to lose weight, become more physically active, and learn to follow a healthy diet to prevent type 2 diabetes.
Medications can also help control blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Call 911 if someone is experiencing symptoms of a diabetic emergency, such as:
- Fast, deep breathing
- Dry skin and mouth
- Flushed face
- Fruity smelling breath
- Muscle stiffness or aching
- Extreme fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
If you are experiencing one or several symptoms of diabetes, call your licensed medical provider to discuss your concerns.
When you make your appointment, let them know you have concerns about your diabetic symptoms and ask them how you can best prepare for the appointment.
They may ask you to fast eight hours before so that they can draw your fasting glucose level.
Learning how to manage your blood sugar level early will help reduce complications.
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