The earlier it’s caught, the easier it is to treat and manage diabetes. But even though the signs of a blood sugar problem are there, it can be difficult to recognize them if you’re unsure of what to watch for.
Dr. Jason Stanton is a family medicine provider who helps patients notice the warning signs of high blood sugar and take steps to prevent or slow the progression of diabetes. In this blog, he shares a few hidden signs and symptoms of diabetes that every patient should know.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 34.2 million adults in the US have some form of diabetes—but many don’t know it yet. There are a few different types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition that prevents your pancreas from making insulin. Most people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when they’re young, but it can develop in adulthood, too. The symptoms and signs of type 1 diabetes tend to come on very suddenly in just a few weeks or months. Right now, there isn’t a way to prevent type 1 diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, your body loses the ability to use or produce insulin over time. It’s most common in older adults, but more kids and young people are starting to develop type 2 diabetes, too. Prediabetes is a warning sign for type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes. Pregnant people are at risk of gestational diabetes, which is when blood sugar spikes during pregnancy. There are often no noticeable symptoms of gestational diabetes, but it can lead to complications if it’s not treated. Your OB/GYN will likely test you for gestational diabetes around the end of your second trimester.
Gestational diabetes often goes away after pregnancy, but there aren’t cures for type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, by catching these conditions as early as possible, you can keep them from getting worse and facing serious health complications in the future.
5 Surprising Symptoms & Signs of Diabetes
1. Extreme Thirst and Frequent Urination
Feeling thirsty all the time is one of the most common first symptoms of diabetes. As a result of drinking more to quench your thirst, you may also be running to the bathroom more frequently to urinate or waking up in the middle of the night to go. Your mouth might feel dry a lot, too. Kids might develop a new habit of bed-wetting.
Too much sugar in the blood is tough on the kidneys. When your kidneys can’t process excess sugar, that sugar gets flushed out of the body through urine. Other fluids are flushed out, too, which can leave you feeling dehydrated and thirsty. This dehydration may show up as dry skin or dry eyes, too.
2. Cuts or Sores That Heal Slowly
Uncontrolled blood sugar can interfere with your body’s natural healing process and slow blood circulation.
When circulation slows down, tiny cuts, scrapes, sores, and bruises that may have healed in a few days can take much longer to disappear. If your blood sugar is too high, you may notice wounds don’t heal as quickly as they used to, especially on your legs and feet.
In addition to being a sign of diabetes, slow-healing wounds leave you at a greater risk of infection. If you notice any cut or sore looks swollen or feels hot to the touch, seek medical attention right away.
3. Pain, Numbness, or Tingling in Your Limbs
Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage that causes pain or numbness in the limbs. An early sign of type 2 diabetes might be numbness, tingling sensations, or a burning pain in the feet or hands. High blood sugar can damage nerve endings, interfering with the signals they send to your brain.
Neuropathy progresses slowly, but it’s important to catch and treat it as soon as possible. If ignored, diabetic neuropathy can result in severe nerve damage that can spread to other parts of the body.
4. Blurry Vision
Another surprising symptom of high blood sugar? Blurred vision, which may occur when your sugar levels spike after a meal. Blurriness happens because of how blood sugar affects the blood vessels in your eyes. When ignored for too long, vision problems can progress into diabetic retinopathy, which can cause blindness in some patients.
5. Sweet-Smelling Breath
This may sound like a strange one, but sweet-smelling, fruity breath (also called acetone breath) can be an indicator of diabetes. When your body breaks down food improperly, it can cause a buildup of ketones in your blood. When too many ketones build up, it can cause a whole host of health problems—including acetone breath.
Having sweet-smelling breath after eating candy is normal. But if you or someone else notices your breath smells fruity even though you haven’t eaten, go to a doctor right away. This could be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is an emergency for patients with any type of diabetes.
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Could I Have Diabetes?
If you’re experiencing any concerning symptoms, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor. They can check for diabetes by running a simple blood test or look for any other underlying conditions that could be impacting your health.
Catching and treating diabetes early is the best way to prevent future health problems down the line. If you’re not sure how to lower your blood sugar, Dr. Stanton says that your physician can help you find medications and ways to change your eating habits.
Concerned? Talk to a Doctor
If you notice any one of these symptoms, it’s time to talk to a doctor. Whether it’s diabetes, prediabetes, or something else entirely, your doctor can help you get to the bottom of your concerns and find a treatment plan that works best for you.
About Jason Stanton, MD
Board-certified family medicine physician Dr. Jason Stanton helps patients detect, prevent, and manage chronic illnesses—including everything from diabetes to heart disease.
In addition to helping patients treat high blood sugar, Dr. Stanton is certified in Wilderness Medicine and Obesity Medicine.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.