Diabetes symptoms can be hard to spot. Here's what to look for and when to get care.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Many people have diabetes but don't know it. That's why the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that most adults begin diabetes screening at age 35. The ADA advises diabetes screening before age 35 for those who are overweight and have additional risk factors for prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Testing for diabetes also should take place for anyone who has early symptoms of diabetes. But those symptoms aren't always easy to notice. In fact, symptoms can develop so slowly that people may have type 2 diabetes for years before they're diagnosed with the disease.

If you notice the following symptoms, make an appointment to get care:

  • Being very thirsty.
  • Urinating often.
  • Being much more tired than usual.
  • Having blurry vision.
  • Losing weight without trying.

Recognizing possible diabetes symptoms can lead to early diagnosis and treatment. That can help prevent complications of diabetes and lead to a lifetime of better health.

Here are more details about possible symptoms of diabetes:

Being very thirsty and urinating often are common diabetes symptoms. In people who have diabetes, extra sugar — which also is called glucose — builds up in the blood. This forces the kidneys to work overtime to filter and absorb the extra sugar.

When the kidneys can't keep up, extra sugar goes into the urine. And it takes along fluids from the body's tissues. That causes dehydration, which usually leads to a feeling of thirst. Drinking more fluids to quench the thirst then leads to more urination.

Diabetes can make you feel very tired. This is called fatigue. It happens because high blood sugar disrupts the body's ability to use sugar for energy. Dehydration from increased urination also can leave you feeling tired.

When you lose sugar through frequent urination, you also lose calories. Along with dehydration, this can cause rapid weight loss. That's especially true in people who have type 1 diabetes. But it also can happen in some people with type 2 diabetes. People newly diagnosed with diabetes may gain some weight right away as a result of better hydration. Then over time, because less sugar is being lost in urine, weight gain may continue unless steps are taken to prevent it.

Diabetes symptoms sometimes involve eyesight. High levels of blood sugar pull fluid from the body's tissues, including the lenses of the eyes. This affects the eyes' ability to focus. With diabetes treatment and better control of blood sugar, the eyes' ability to focus usually returns and blurry vision goes away.

If it's not treated, diabetes can cause new blood vessels to form in the retina — the back part of the eye. That can damage other blood vessels. For most people, these early changes don't cause vision problems. However, if the changes aren't found and they get worse, they may lead to vision problems and, eventually, blindness.

High levels of blood sugar can cause poor blood flow and damage the body's natural healing process. Because of this, people with diabetes may notice slow-healing sores, especially on the feet. In women with diabetes, bladder and vaginal yeast infections may happen more often.

Although it's a less common symptom, tingling and a loss of sensation, called numbness, can happen in the hands and feet of people with diabetes. That's because too much blood sugar can affect the way nerves work. Burning pain in the arms, hands, legs and feet also may happen.

Diabetes may weaken the body's ability to fight germs. That raises the risk of infection in the gums and in the bones that hold the teeth in place. This can lead to another less common diabetes symptom when the gums pull away from the teeth. The teeth then may become loose, and sores or pockets of pus may develop in the gums.

If you notice any possible symptoms of diabetes, contact a member of your health care team. Diabetes is a serious condition. The earlier it's diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin. With active participation and support from a health care team, people with diabetes often can successfully manage the disease and enjoy active, healthy lives.

June 27, 2023