It’s important to listen to what your body is telling you. Have you been unusually hungry, thirsty, fatigued or dehydrated? If symptoms persist—especially those related to energy and metabolism—it could be a good idea to get tested for diabetes. Over 300 million people have the disease worldwide (mostly type 2), and the International Diabetes Federation estimates this will double within the next 20 years. If left untreated diabetes can lead to severe complications, including death. Advances in diabetes have made the disease more manageable, but it’s important to keep an eye out for early warning signs in order to reduce long–term health risks.
Type 1 or 2?
Both types involve an imbalance of sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream, so most of the warning signs will be similar—hunger, thirst, fatigue, dehydration, frequent urination and blurred vision. Type 2 diabetes is more common, and the symptoms are typically milder (indeed, many people won’t know they have the disease until long–term damage has occurred). Type 1, known as juvenile diabetes, develops much more quickly and leads to severe symptoms. Treatments will differ (type 2 may not require insulin shots), but the major warning signs tend to look the same.
- Frequent urination, frequent thirst:
- If there’s too much glucose in your bloodstream, your kidneys will want to drain it all out through urine. The need to urinate frequently—especially at night—could therefore be a sign of diabetes. Increased thirst is a related warning sign: the more you urinate, the thirstier you’ll become, and with your blood–sugar constantly out of flux, you’re especially likely to gravitate toward sugary drinks.
- Diabetics don’t produce enough insulin, which is the hormone that allows your body to use the glucose in your bloodstream. Less insulin means less glucose (the kind you use, anyway), which means less energy. If you feel unusually tired, it could be a sign of a blood–glucose imbalance.
- Increased hunger is related to increased fatigue—the less glucose your body gets to use, the less energy you actually absorb from your food. The result? You’ll want to eat more and more to make up for the lost glucose.
- Vision trouble:
- Blood–sugar impacts fluid consistency and agility around the lenses of the eyes. When glucose levels fluctuate unexpectedly, the lenses could swell and lead to blurry vision as you try to focus.
- Weight Loss
- It’s a paradox: you eat more, but you weigh less. Unexpected or abrupt weight loss can be a sign that your body isn’t getting enough glucose, despite how much you’re eating.
- Infections, numbness, foot pain and wounds
- Diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, which means that your immune system will be weaker in fighting infections and healing wounds. A weak immune system is also related to nerve damage and less effective blood–flow. Persistent infections, such as yeast infections, could therefore be an early warning sign of diabetes. Likewise, wounds might take unusually long to heal. Numbness, especially in the feet and other extremities, might indicate nerve damage.
If you recognize any of these symptoms, it might be a good idea to ask your primary care physician for a diabetes test. The most common method is a blood–glucose test (fasting or non–fasting). Other tests include the also oral glucose tolerance test and the hemoglobin a1c test.