Diabetes can often go unnoticed because affected individuals are not aware of the changes associated with the condition. When left untreated, diabetes can cause serious side effects. Learning to spot the symptoms of diabetes will help those who are at risk for this disease know when to seek further testing and, potentially, treatment for their condition.
Diabetes in and of itself causes no symptoms — the health conditions caused by diabetes, like high blood sugar levels, are what cause them. Common diabetes symptoms may include:
Excessive Thirst and Urination
Sometimes increased thirst is the first sign noticed. As blood sugar builds, the kidneys work hard to filter and absorb that sugar. Sometimes the kidneys are not able to keep up. The sugar is then excreted into the urine, drawing fluid from the body's tissues. This triggers the body to feel thirsty. The more the person drinks, the more urine output they will have, so the two symptoms often go hand in hand.
Weight Loss and Constant Hunger
Diabetes is often associated with people who are overweight, but weight loss, particularly if it is sudden and unexpected, can be an indicator as well, particularly of Type 1 diabetes. When the sugar is discarded through frequent urination, it leads to a loss of calories. The disease can stop the food sugars from reaching the cells — so even though the individual is eating, the cells are not getting the energy they need. This can lead to excessive hunger (even when eating a normal amount) and fast, unexpected weight loss.
High blood sugar levels pull fluids from all of the body's tissues, including the tissues of the eyes. This can lead to blurred vision. Over time, retina damage can occur. If the diabetes is left untreated, this can cause loss of vision and, potentially, blindness.
Tingling of Hands and Feet
Diabetes can damage the nerves, and this often shows up as a tingling in the hands and feet. Sometimes a burning pain in hands, legs, feet and arms can occur.
If you are noticing changes to the health of your gums, you may need to get checked for diabetes. When left untreated, diabetes can cause the gums to pull away from the teeth or increase the likelihood that an individual will struggle with gum disease.
While research is still underway to prove why, doctors have found that patients with diabetes have a longer healing time for wounds. They are also more prone to infections. High blood sugar levels may impact the body's immune and healing responses.
Diabetes is a serious condition with far-reaching consequences. If you are noticing some of these symptoms of diabetes, talk to your doctor and have your blood sugar levels checked.Editors:
Guillermo Umpierrez, MD
Emory University School of Medicine
Margaret Eckert-Norton, PhD
Last Updated: May 2013