Diabetes is often called the silent killer because its symptoms are easy to miss. Of the estimated 29.1 million people in the U.S. with the disease (including several notable athletes), only 21 million are aware they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with diabetes are not able to use the hormone insulin properly. Insulin is necessary to get sugar from your blood to your cells, so you can use it as energy. And when the hormone isn’t functioning as it should, sugar accumulates in the blood instead of the cells.
The symptoms can be mild enough that unless you’re aware of the signs, you might live years without knowing your body is functioning improperly.
Warning signs: Diabetes symptoms
As with many other health issues, diabetes can manifest itself in a number of ways. Although you probably won’t be able to tell whether someone has diabetes just by looking at them, their behaviors can often tip you off. Perhaps they are constantly sick or are drinking a suspicious amount of water, for example. Or sometimes there are more subtle signs — a bruise or cut that never seems to heal. Often, the signs are easily dismissed or invisible.
Watch for these warning signs, pay attention to gradual changes, and if something seems off, see your doctor for a blood sugar test. The longer you go without treating the disease the greater your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, amputation, blindness, and other serious complications.
1. Thirst and excessive pee breaks
People who have diabetes might pee more than someone who is healthy, according to WebMD. The average person pees between four and seven times in a 24-hour period. Typically your body will reabsorb glucose as it passes through your kidneys. When you have diabetes, though, your blood sugar will rise and your body might not be able to bring it back. Your body will try to get rid of the extra glucose by producing more urine. If you notice you’re constantly thirsty or using the bathroom, you might want to visit your doctor.
2. Constant hunger
When you have high blood sugar, your body will have challenges regulating glucose. If you’ve eaten something high in carbohydrates, your body will make too much insulin while your glucose tends to drop quickly. This will impact you by making you feel shaky and hungry, especially for carbs or sugar that will drive up your glucose levels again.
3. Rapid weight loss
Although being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes, it isn’t uncommon to see rapid weight loss in those with this disease. Extremely high blood sugar levels can cause rapid weight loss — you can lose 10 to 20 pounds over a time period of two or three months. The reason behind this significant loss is the insulin hormone isn’t doing its job of getting glucose into the cells where it can be used as energy. In response, the body thinks it’s starving and starts breaking down protein from the muscles for fuel.
4. Foot pain and numbness
Everyday Health says over time, abnormally high blood sugar levels will cause damage to the body’s nerves, a condition called diabetic neuropathy. Although not all people experience this symptom, more advanced cases of diabetes might notice numbness or pain in the extremities, typically starting with the feet. This symptom is most common in people who have had Type 2 diabetes for 25 years or more, but it can occur in people who are in the early stages as well.
5. Blurry vision
One of the early warning signs of diabetes is blurred vision. In high-sugar environments, such as untreated Type 2 diabetes, the ability of the eye’s lens to bend is altered. The lens is not damaged, but the eye muscles have to work harder to focus, especially when there are rapid changes in blood sugar and the eye muscles have not yet adapted to it. There’s a window of time when this symptom will show itself, as your body will adapt to the increased sugar levels and your vision will return to normal over time.
6. Slow healing
We all get dinged up during the course of our lives. Cuts and bruises are more or less a guarantee. But what if they aren’t healing like they’re supposed to? What if you notice your minor injuries lingering around for a lot longer than they should? It could be a sign something’s wrong. Cleveland Clinic says this is one of the more common diabetes symptoms, as well. If you suspect something is wrong, get checked out.
7. Vomiting — for seemingly no reason
You get cuts and bruises. Sometimes, you throw up. Again, it’s all fairly common. But it’s when things are seemingly out of place that red flags should go up. Vomiting can be a warning sign of diabetes, as it’s the result of a fairly complicated set of chemical reactions. It’s called diabetic ketoacidosis, the American Diabetes Association explains. And if you don’t take it seriously, you could end up in a heap of trouble. Often, vomiting is paired with other intestinal problems, such as an upset stomach and diarrhea.
8. Yeast infections
Yeast infections and diabetes? Not exactly two peas in a pod. But they are related, and issues with yeast infections might be a sign there’s diabetes-related trouble around the bend. The link stems from our blood sugar levels. A couple of studies have tied high blood sugar to increased rates of vaginal yeast infections. Basically, because yeast feeds off sugar, the risk of infection increases.
9. Tingling sensations
We’ve already discussed pain and numbness, and strange tingling sensations are closely related. This has to do with how diabetes affects our nervous systems. If you experience a pins-and-needles sensation — the same you might feel when your foot or hand fall asleep, you might be experiencing a symptom of diabetes. The actual term for this experience is paresthesia, and it’s common in some diabetes patients.
10. Skin problems
Often, diabetes symptoms will manifest in the most obvious ways. Sometimes, right on our most visible asset: our skin. There are any number of things you may notice. Discolored patches, rashes, infections, and blisters are some of the most blatant. And, of course, if you’re experiencing slowly healing wounds, a previously discussed, that should tip you off that you need to seek medical attention.
Additional reporting by Sam Becker.