What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes? The Top 15 Signs to Recognize

Feeling thirstier than usual lately? Have to pee more often, especially at night? Notice some numbness in your hands or feet? These seemingly small symptoms could signal something bigger - diabetes.

Diabetes is a condition where blood glucose (sugar) levels stay higher than normal. It develops either when the pancreas can't make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or when the body can't effectively use the insulin it makes (type 2 diabetes).

According to the CDC, over 37 million Americans have diabetes. And nearly 1 in 5 don't even know they have it.

That's because the symptoms don't always make themselves obvious. In fact, some people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms at all for many years.

But for many others, the signs creep up slowly over time. And for those with type 1, they can come on quite suddenly.

So how do you know if you should see a doctor to get tested for diabetes? Here are 15 of the most common diabetes symptoms to watch out for:

1. Increased Thirst and Dry Mouth

Excessive thirst is one of the telltale signs of untreated diabetes. When blood glucose levels get too high, your kidneys have to work overtime to filter and absorb the excess sugar. This makes you urinate more frequently and lose more fluids.

To replace those lost fluids, your body sends the thirst signal. You may find yourself guzzling down water, juice, soda, or other beverages throughout the day. But even so, your mouth still feels dry or sticky.

Increased thirst and dry mouth tend to be most noticeable with uncontrolled or undiagnosed diabetes. Once you start treatment and get blood sugar levels under control, thirst usually subsides.

2. Frequent Urination

Frequent pee breaks are another red flag for diabetes. When you drink more fluids, you urinate more often. But high blood sugar also causes your kidneys to remove more glucose through the urine, which requires more frequent bathroom visits.

You may find yourself waking up several times a night to pee. Accidentally wetting the bed when you never did before is also possible. Or you might feel like you constantly have to go, even though not much comes out when you do.

Since frequent urination leads to fluid loss, it often goes hand-in-hand with increased thirst. So if you feel like you can't quench your thirst and you're always running to the bathroom, seek medical advice.

3. Unexplained Weight Loss

Sudden, unintentional weight loss is another noteworthy symptom of diabetes. Insulin plays a key role in metabolism. So when the body stops making enough insulin or can't use it well, metabolism gets disrupted.

Despite eating the same amount as usual, you lose weight without trying. Because the body can't properly use or store glucose from food, it starts breaking down protein from muscle and fat as an alternate energy source.

Rapid weight loss is most common in undiagnosed type 1 diabetes. But it can also happen with type 2 when insulin production drops way down. Losing 10-20 pounds or more unexpectedly warrants a trip to the doctor.

4. Fatigue and Weakness

Feeling constantly drained, despite sleeping well and eating right? Or find yourself easily exhausted by everyday activities that never used to take it out of you? Fatigue could mean diabetes.

When glucose can't provide enough energy for your cells, you feel tired and sluggish. High blood sugar also causes inflammation that can sap energy. And the frequent urination from diabetes often disrupts sleep, leading to daytime tiredness.

Fatigue related to diabetes may come on slowly. But if you feel suddenly weak, dizzy, or drowsy, it could signal diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a medical emergency. Seek treatment right away for sudden onset fatigue.

5. Blurred Vision

Having trouble reading street signs or seeing objects clearly? Diabetes can cause vision changes like blurred sight, double vision, flashing lights, floaters, and eye pain or pressure.

When blood sugar stays elevated, fluid pulls into the lens of the eye. This leads to swelling, which distorts vision. High glucose also causes damage to the small blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye.

Retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes. Catching it early and controlling your blood sugar levels can prevent significant vision loss. So see an optometrist right away if your sight seems off.

6. Slow-Healing Cuts and Bruises

Do you have cuts, scrapes, or sores that take forever to heal? High blood sugar curbs circulation and increases inflammation, which slows the healing process.

High blood sugar also impairs white blood cells that normally fight off infections. So wounds often become infected easily. Diabetes also causes nerve damage that can lead to numbness. Not feeling cuts or sores easily leads to infection.

Look for cuts or blisters on your feet that are slow to heal. Or notice bruises that seem to linger. Pay close attention to any sores that don't start to heal within a week or seem to be infected. Promptly treating wounds prevents complications.

See your doctor about hard-to-heal cuts or sores, which could signal poor circulation and nerve damage from diabetes. Keeping blood sugar in check and using antibiotic ointments on wounds can aid healing.

7. Tingling or Numbness in Hands and Feet

Feel any tingling, numbness, or pain in your extremities? This is usually a sign of diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage caused by diabetes.

High levels of blood glucose can injure nerve fibers throughout the body. The nerves in the hands, arms, feet, and legs are often affected first. Numb, painful, tingly, or prickly sensations are common.

Neuropathy symptoms often start gradually and worsen over several years. Proper blood sugar control can prevent or delay neuropathy. But any unexplained tingling warrants checking in with your doctor.

Catching neuropathy early is key, as it can lead to wounds or ulcers that may become infected. Seek treatment at the first sign of numbness or pain in your extremities.

8. Increased Hunger and Appetite

Increased hunger and appetite can happen with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but for different reasons.

With type 1, the pancreas stops making insulin needed to help glucose enter cells for energy. So the cells are "starving" for energy, sending hunger signals in response. Despite eating more, weight loss still occurs.

In type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin's effects. So cells aren't getting enough glucose, triggering more hunger signals. Eating more can lead to weight gain in type 2.

If you feel hungrier than normal or food cravings that never seem satisfied, diabetes may be why. See your doctor to determine the cause. Controlling blood sugar levels helps regulate hunger cues.

9. Headaches

Frequent headaches or migraines can also indicate diabetes, especially if the headaches seem resistant to over-the-counter medications.

Several things can trigger headaches and migraines in people with diabetes:

  • Dehydration from increased thirst and frequent urination
  • Blood sugar fluctuations
  • Medication side effects
  • Stress and anxiety from dealing with diabetes
  • Eye problems like glaucoma and retinal damage

Diabetes also causes changes in blood vessels and fluid retention that can contribute to migraines. See your doctor if you have frequent headaches that don't respond to typical treatments. Preventing blood sugar spikes and staying hydrated may help.

10. Irritability or Mood Changes

Major shifts in mood or personality, especially in someone previously not prone to these changes, could signal diabetes.

Rapid, drastic changes in blood sugar levels that happen in uncontrolled diabetes can lead to irritability, anxiety, anger, stubbornness, and defensiveness. This is especially common in children with type 1 diabetes.

Mood swings, depression, and other behavioral symptoms are usually the direct result of poor blood sugar control. Once diabetes management is improved, the behavioral issues tend to resolve.

Look for extreme, uncharacteristic irritability, often combined with the other symptoms here like excessive thirst, frequent urination, and fatigue. These mood changes are the body's way of signaling it needs help.

11. Yeast Infections

Women with diabetes tend to get yeast infections more often. When blood sugar levels are high, excess sugar spills into the urine. Yeast feeds on this sugar and can multiply quickly.

High glucose also causes immune system disruption so the body can't fight off infections as well. And nerve damage in the pelvic region from diabetes leads to decreased blood flow, creating a breeding ground for yeast.

So vaginal itching, burning, and discharge may indicate uncontrolled diabetes. See your gynecologist and endocrinologist if infections recur frequently. Keeping blood glucose levels in check helps avoid repeat infections.

12. Itchy Skin

Itchy skin can be an annoying symptom of diabetes. Yeast overgrowth is one cause, leading to itchy rashes in skin folds.

Nerve damage from diabetes can also cause itchiness. And dry skin from dehydration may become extremely itchy. Circulation issues also make existing skin irritation and dermatitis worse.

If itchy skin without rash won't go away or you develop skin lesions or blisters from scratching, diabetes may be to blame. Keeping skin moisturized and managing blood glucose levels can provide relief.

Check with your doctor if itching disrupts sleep or daily life. Medicated creams, oral antihistamines, or treating the diabetes may be needed to manage bothersome itching.

13. Slow Healing of Cuts and Bruises

Do you have cuts, scrapes, or sores that are slow to heal? High blood sugar curbs circulation and increases inflammation, which slows the healing process.

High glucose also impairs white blood cells that normally fight infections. So wounds often become infected easily in people with diabetes. Nerve damage can also cause numbness so cuts or sores aren't felt.

Look for cuts or blisters on your feet that don't seem to heal. Or notice bruises that linger. Pay close attention to any sores not healing within a week or that look infected. Promptly treating wounds prevents complications.

See your doctor about hard-to-heal cuts or sores, which could indicate poor circulation and nerve damage from diabetes. Controlling blood sugar and using antibiotic ointments aids healing.

14. Discolored Patches on Skin

Some people with diabetes develop dark, velvety patches on the skin called acanthosis nigricans. These usually appear on the armpits, groin, and neck.

This skin discoloration results from insulin resistance. The high insulin levels in the blood cause the skin to grow abnormally. It signals that diabetes may develop down the road.

See your doctor if you notice oddly textured, darkened patches on your skin. Treating insulin resistance early can help avoid complications. Losing weight also helps improve insulin sensitivity and make the unusual skin patches go away.

15. Sexual Dysfunction

Diabetes can cause sexual problems in both men and women, like reduced libido, vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction, and difficulty reaching orgasm. High blood glucose damages nerves and blood vessels involved in sexual response.

Managing diabetes through medication, diet, exercise, and stress reduction helps prevent and treat sexual dysfunction. Doctors can also prescribe medications to improve sexual functioning in people with diabetes.

Don't ignore sexuality changes. Bring it up with your doctor so you can take steps to improve your sexual health and relationship intimacy.

When to See a Doctor

Don't brush off potential diabetes symptoms. The sooner it's diagnosed and treated, the better. Chronic high blood sugar causes severe complications like kidney disease, nerve damage, blindness, limb amputations, heart disease, stroke, and more.

See your doctor if you experience increased thirst, frequent urination, weight changes, cuts that won't heal, tingling hands and feet, blurred vision, fatigue, headache, or any other unusual symptoms.

Get your blood sugar tested if anyone in your family has diabetes or if you have any risk factors like obesity, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. Testing is the only way to diagnose diabetes for certain.

Left untreated, diabetes can become disabling or even fatal. But with proper management and lifestyle changes, many people can control their blood sugar levels and live full, healthy lives.

So pay attention to your body. Recognizing diabetes symptoms early makes all the difference.