Right now, without even realizing it, your body could be sending you warnings signs of diabetes. Current statistics show that a staggering 1 in 3 people who actually have this disease aren’t even aware they do (1). In 2012 alone, the American Diabetes Association revealed that 29.1 million Americans—9.3 % of the population—had diabetes. What’s more, 1.4 million more people will be diagnosed with the disease every year (2).
And according to experts, these numbers are likely conservative given the fact that far too many people are simply not aware of the symptoms or choose to ignore them, brushing them off as minor health problems—sometimes for months and even years.
But diabetes is anything but minor and early diagnosis and treatment can mean the difference between living a long healthy life and suffering from severe complications and health issues, or even early death.
According to the latest statistics, approximately 86 million Americans over the age of 20 have what is known as prediabetes, a condition characterized by higher than normal blood glucose levels (having a fasting plasma blood glucose level in the 100-125 mg/dl range) (3).
While these levels are not yet high enough to be classified as “full-scale” diabetes, they are worrisome and do indicate you are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes within the next 10 years.
To make matters worse, even a 3-year delay in diagnosing the disease can result in a 29 percent higher risk of also developing heart disease(4).
For this reason, organizations such as the American Diabetes Association want people to know what signs to look for so they can take control of their health before diabetes becomes a real issue.
See also: Reversing diabetes Type-2
What You Need to Know
The first thing you should know is that the signs and symptoms of pre-diabetes and diabetes are typically the same for both adults and children. You should also understand the differences between the two types of diabetes.
People who have type 1 diabetes typically develop symptoms quickly—they come on suddenly and often require immediate medical attention(5).
Type 2 diabetes is trickier and can come on much more slowly. People who develop this type of diabetes, can often think the symptoms are nothing to worry about, that they will go away even(6). But in most cases, they don’t—they simply get worse, which makes this type of diabetes even more dangerous.
1. An Insatiable Appetite
We all feel extra hungry at times but people with diabetes may have what seems like an “unquenchable” appetite. This can be an issue for many reasons, especially the fact that overeating can lead to obesity, which is dangerous for diabetics. Because diabetes messes with your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, it causes your brain to think it is actually starving, when in fact, it’s not.
2. Increased Urination
One of the biggest signs of pending diabetes or full-blown diabetes is an increased need to urinate.
This condition is called polyuria and is characterized by an “abnormally large production or passage of urine that is greater than 2.5 or 3L over 24 hours in adults.
Normally, a healthy adult will have to pee between 6 – 7 times in a 24 hour period (although between 4 and 10 times a day can also be normal depending on how often and how much you drink).
According to the American Diabetes Association, having to get up in the night to pee several times is a red flag for diabetes as it means your kidneys are working overtime in order to rid themselves of excess sugar.
3. Excessive Thirst
We all get thirsty sometimes, especially if you eat a lot of salty or processed foods and drink alcohol, but excessive thirst, even after you drink, is a tell-tale sign you may have diabetes.
If you find you are regularly drinking more than 4 litres (1 gallon) or more per day you may have a condition known as polydipsia (7).
That being said, a 2011 study shows that drinking about “four or more 8-ounce glasses of water a day may protect against the development of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).” (8)
Researchers showed that people who drank more than 34 ounces of water a day were actually 21 percent less likely to develop high blood sugar than those who drank only 16 ounces or less a day.
If you find, however, that you are experiencing more thirst than usual, speak to your doctor to determine if you blood sugar levels are within normal ranges.
Read more: how to reverse diabetes
4. Weight Loss
While many people would not complain if they started to lose weight, unintentional or weight loss that cannot be explained, is one sign of diabetes.
Weight loss of between 5-10 kg (11-22 lbs) in just weeks or months is something you should speak to your doctor about (9).
This symptom is more likely to occur in people who have developed type 1 diabetes and can be dangerous as the lack of blood sugar tricks your brain into thinking it is starving so to compensate, it starts to break down protein in your muscles, which causes the weight loss.
5. Feeling Tired and Weak
In diabetes, sugar does not reach the cells, which leaves them starving for energy, which leaves you lack lustre and weak.
In cases of diabetes, your body must also work overtime to compensate for the erratic sugar levels. This, along with your kidneys having to work extra to rid themselves of this extra sugar, can eventually take a toll on you (10).
While feeling exhausted alone is not a sign of diabetes (there can be many reasons), if you find you are lacking energy and simply exhausted for no reason, you should speak to your doctor.
6. “Pins and Needles” in Your Hands or Feet
A typical sign of early diabetes is a sensation like tingling or numbness in your hands and feet. Often this can happen when your first wake up and in some people it can even feel like your hands or feet are burning. This is a sign that sugar is lingering in your blood and is damaging your nerves (11).
7. Blurred vision
Sudden or growing bouts of blurred vision or seeing ‘floaters,’ is another symptom of diabetes.
As we age it is normal for our vision to deteriorate some, but in cases of diabetes, excess sugar can pull fluids from your cells and tissues, including your eyes, which can cause swelling and actually change its shape, which can affect your vision. This condition can improve, however, when you get your blood sugar levels under control (12).
8. Dry, Itchy Skin
There are plenty of reasons why your skin can become dry and itchy (thyroid for one), but if your skin begins to become excessively itchy it can signal high sugar levels.
Another skin problem in diabetics is what is called acanthosis nigricans, which is a condition in which the skin darkens around your armpits or neck.
This is caused by poor circulation and even excessive fluid loss from having to pee too much and insulin resistance (13). If you see any of these changes in your skin, speak to your doctor who can have your glucose levels tested.
9. Slow Healing Wounds or Cuts
When you have high blood sugar, often it is harder for your skin to heal.
People with this condition will find they bruise easier and that small cuts seem to take a long time to heal.
The farther the body part is away from the heart, the worse the condition because the excess glucose in the body starts to damage the arteries and veins, which ultimately restricts your circulation.
Because blood is required to help heal wounds, when you have poor circulation, the healing process will also be impeded (14).
10. Feeling Shaky
People with unstable sugar levels can often find they feel unsteady and need to eat carbs in order to stave off the feeling.
According Marjorie Cypress, the 2014 president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association, when your glucose levels drop it can leave you feeling shaky so you crave sugar or carbohydrates to give you that extra boost.
The issue is that when you eat something high in carbs, your body “shoots out” too much insulin, which causes your glucose to drop quickly. “This can lead to a vicious cycle,” warns Cypress.
And so, if you find you are regularly having these issues, you should speak to your doctor.
What Can You Do?
If you experience any of these symptoms, or especially if you experience several of them, talk to your physician who can easily test your blood sugar levels. Having an early diagnosis can greatly improve your odds at preventing these symptoms from worsening and becoming dangerous and even permanent.