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Diabetes, often referred to as diabetes mellitus, is a chronic health condition that affects millions worldwide. It interferes with the body's ability to utilize sugar (glucose) for energy. This problem can cause different symptoms.

If noticed early, it can help manage and prevent complications. The symptoms of diabetes vary depending on the type of diabetes and how high an individual’s blood sugar is. Here, we delve deep into the symptoms to offer a thorough understanding.

  1. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels:

Elevated blood sugar levels, medically termed hyperglycemia, are a hallmark sign of diabetes. In a healthy body, the hormone insulin ensures that glucose, also known as blood sugar, from food is absorbed into cells for energy. However, in diabetes, either the body doesn't produce enough insulin (Type 1) or cells are resistant to its effects (Type 2). Consequently, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream, resulting in hyperglycemia.

Over time, consistently high blood sugar levels can lead to widespread damage in various body systems, affecting the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart, immune system, brain, sexual function, and more. Early symptoms of elevated blood sugar include excessive thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. If left unchecked, chronic hyperglycemia can lead to severe complications such as diabetic neuropathy, retinopathy, and cardiovascular diseases. Monitoring and managing blood sugar levels through medication, lifestyle adjustments, and dietary changes are crucial for those with diabetes to prevent these complications. [1]  Supplements can also play a very helpful role in preventing these complications. 

  1. Frequent Urination:

Frequent urination, known medically as polyuria, is a common symptom of diabetes. When blood sugar levels rise, the kidneys try to remove the excess glucose through urine production. As a result, the body produces larger amounts of urine more often. 

People find that they pee more frequently and this symptom is a good clue that something might not be right and it is time to get it checked by a health professional.

This increased urine output can lead to dehydration, prompting an individual to drink more fluids, which can subsequently exacerbate the frequency of urination. It's a cycle that, if noticed, should prompt individuals to check their blood sugar levels. Early detection and management of diabetes are essential to prevent further complications associated with the condition. [2]

  1. Excessive Thirst:

Excessive thirst, medically termed polydipsia, is a hallmark sign of diabetes. Elevated blood sugar levels lead the kidneys to filter out the excess glucose through increased urine production. This frequent urination can cause dehydration, triggering a feeling of unquenchable thirst.

As people with diabetes drink more to quench this thirst, it further increases the frequency of urination, creating a vicious cycle. Recognizing excessive thirst combined with frequent urination can be indicative of uncontrolled diabetes and should prompt an individual to seek medical evaluation. Proper management can help alleviate these symptoms and control blood sugar levels. [3]

  1. Increased Hunger:

Increased hunger, known as polyphagia, is a common symptom of diabetes. When diabetes is uncontrolled, glucose cannot efficiently enter cells due to insufficient insulin or insulin resistance. As cells lack the energy they require from glucose, the body perceives it's not getting enough fuel, leading to persistent hunger.

Even after eating, without glucose entering cells, the hunger persists. This symptom, combined with other signs like excessive thirst and frequent urination, should raise suspicions of diabetes. Seeking timely medical advice can aid in early diagnosis and effective management of blood sugar levels.

  1. Fatigue and Sleep:

Fatigue is a prevalent complaint among individuals with diabetes. Inadequate insulin or insulin resistance hinders glucose from entering cells, depriving the body of its primary energy source. Additionally, high blood sugar can cause inflammation, further contributing to tiredness. The body's frequent urination, another symptom of diabetes, can also lead to dehydration, exacerbating fatigue.

Moreover, sleep disturbances due to frequent nighttime urination or other related conditions, like sleep apnea, can leave diabetic individuals feeling consistently weary. [4] 

Recognizing persistent fatigue in conjunction with other symptoms can be a clue to potential diabetes and warrants a medical evaluation. It is important to seek the help of a health professional for clinical assessment, ideally a sleep specialist.


  1. Unintended Weight Loss:

Despite eating more, rapid and unintentional weight loss can be observed. This is particularly common in type 1 diabetes, where the body starts to use muscle and stored fat as an energy source due to its inability to access glucose. [5]

  1. Blurred Vision:

Blurred vision is a common symptom experienced by those with diabetes. Elevated blood sugar levels cause the lens of the eye to swell, altering its shape and affecting its ability to focus clearly. Over time, consistently high glucose levels can also damage blood vessels in the retina, leading to diabetic retinopathy, a severe complication that can result in vision loss. This is one of the most common preventable causes of the loss of vision.

Fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause intermittent blurring, making vision clear at times and fuzzy at others. While temporary blurring might resolve with better blood sugar management, persistently blurred vision requires immediate medical attention to prevent potentially irreversible damage. [6]

  1. Slow-Healing Wounds:

Slow-healing wounds, especially on the feet and legs, are a concerning symptom often associated with diabetes. Elevated blood sugar levels compromise the body's ability to heal, impairing blood circulation and weakening the immune system. This makes it harder for the body to fight off potential infections that can arise from wounds.

Over time, chronic high glucose levels can lead to nerve damage, or neuropathy, reducing sensation and making it easier to overlook or underestimate injuries. Untreated, these wounds can develop into more serious complications, like ulcers or gangrene, which may require hospitalization or even amputation in extreme cases. [7]

  1. Tingling or Numbness:

Tingling or numbness, particularly in the hands and feet, is a common symptom of diabetes, often signaling peripheral neuropathy. This condition arises due to prolonged elevated blood sugar levels, which damage the nerves over time.

As the nerves become impaired, they can send incorrect signals to the brain or cease transmitting signals altogether. This results in sensations like "pins and needles", numbness, or even burning. When left unaddressed, neuropathy can lead to a loss of sensation called numbness, increasing the risk of unnoticed injuries, which in the context of diabetes, can escalate to severe complications. 

This is how a seemingly simple cut or wound, that has gone unnoticed, progresses to a major infection, becomes ulcerated because of poor wound healing, and leads to further severe complications. [8]

  1. Darkened Skin Patches:

Darkened skin patches, medically referred to as acanthosis nigricans, are often associated with diabetes. These velvety, hyperpigmented patches frequently appear in body folds and creases, such as the neck (especially the back of the neck), armpits, and groin. Elevated insulin levels, common in type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, often trigger these skin changes.

The darker skin is relative to a person’s base skin color. For those whose skin is darker, or more richly melanated (has higher melanin content), the darker skin may also appear purple and may also have a shine to its appearance.

The insulin buildup in the bloodstream prompts skin cells to reproduce more rapidly, leading to the characteristic dark patches. Recognizing these patches can serve as an early warning sign of insulin resistance and the potential onset of diabetes, urging individuals to seek medical evaluation. [9]

  1. Yeast Infections:

Yeast infections are more prevalent among individuals with diabetes, primarily because elevated blood sugar levels create an ideal environment for yeast to thrive. High glucose levels in the blood and urine nourish yeast, leading to overgrowth. Moreover, diabetes can compromise the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections and to wounds that do not heal.

Women with poorly controlled diabetes may frequently encounter vaginal yeast infections and athlete’s foot. Men with poorly controlled diabetes may have frequent yeast infections, especially jock itch and athlete’s foot. Yeast also affects the mouth and warm, moist areas of skin. Regular monitoring and control of blood sugar levels can help reduce the risk of recurrent yeast infections in diabetic patients. [10]

  1. Irritability and Mood Changes:

Diabetes can significantly influence mood and behavior. Unstable or high blood sugar levels can lead to feelings of irritability or rapid mood swings. As the body struggles to maintain its energy balance, individuals may experience heightened stress, anxiety, or episodes of sadness.

Furthermore, the constant need to manage diabetes, including monitoring blood sugar, adhering to medication schedules, and dietary restrictions, can also be overwhelming, contributing to emotional fluctuations. Recognizing these symptoms is crucial as they impact quality of life and affect one's ability to manage their diabetes effectively. Proper blood sugar control can help alleviate these mood disturbances. [11]

  1. Red or Swollen Gums:

Red or swollen gums are a dental concern that can have implications for individuals with diabetes. Elevated blood sugar levels can lead to higher susceptibility to gum infections and periodontal disease. The inflammatory response linked to gum disease can, in turn, exacerbate diabetes by making it more challenging to control blood sugar levels. 

This creates a cyclical relationship where one condition worsens the other. Maintaining good oral hygiene, regular dental check-ups, and keeping blood sugar levels in check are crucial for diabetics to prevent these dental issues. If you notice red or swollen gums, consult a healthcare provider promptly for an assessment and tailored treatment plan. [12]

  1. Dry Mouth and Itchy Skin:

Diabetes often leads to dehydration due to increased urination as the body tries to expel excess glucose. This dehydration can manifest as a dry mouth, a common symptom among diabetics. Concurrently, high blood sugar can cause poor circulation and nerve damage, leading to dry and itchy skin.

The body's inability to retain moisture combined with decreased blood flow to the skin can make it parched and sensitive. Regular monitoring and managing blood glucose levels, along with proper skincare and hydration, are essential in addressing these uncomfortable symptoms associated with diabetes. [13]

  1. Nausea and Vomiting:

Nausea and vomiting are symptoms that can be directly linked to diabetes, particularly when the disease is not well-managed. When blood sugar levels soar too high, the body attempts to flush out excess glucose through increased urination. However, when this method becomes ineffective, the body might resort to expelling glucose through vomit.

Additionally, diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious condition where the body starts using fat for energy due to inadequate insulin, can lead to nausea and vomiting among other symptoms. It's crucial to recognize and address these symptoms promptly, as they indicate a need for immediate medical attention and management adjustments.

  1. Sweet-Scented Breath:

A sweet or fruity odor on one's breath, reminiscent of nail polish remover, can be indicative of diabetes complications. This distinct scent arises from diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious condition that occurs when the body lacks sufficient insulin and starts breaking down fats for energy.

The breakdown produces ketones, chemicals that can lead to a buildup in the bloodstream and get expelled through breath.

DKA is life-threatening and demands urgent medical intervention. While the sweet-scented breath may be an early warning sign, it's vital to monitor other DKA symptoms like excessive thirst, frequent urination, and fatigue. [14]

  1. Gestational Diabetes Symptoms:

Gestational diabetes, which emerges during pregnancy, often presents subtly, making its symptoms easy to overlook. While many women might not show clear symptoms, some may experience increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and snoring.

The condition can occasionally lead to blurred vision and recurring infections. It's essential for pregnant women to attend regular prenatal check-ups where screening for gestational diabetes is typically done between the 24th and 28th weeks. Detecting and managing gestational diabetes is crucial to safeguard the health of both the mother and the baby. [15]

It's crucial to recognize that many of these symptoms can be subtle and can often be mistaken for other conditions or overlooked altogether. Regular check-ups are vital for early detection, especially for those at higher risk.

By Beverly Yates


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