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Signs of Diabetes

  1. What are signs of diabetes?
  2. Type 1
  3. Type 2
  4. Other types
  5. Diagnosis
  6. Prevention
  7. FAQs

What are signs of diabetes?

Signs of diabetes are the observable manifestations of diabetes, a condition that causes a person’s blood sugar levels to become too high.

There are two main forms of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form, accounting for 90 percent of all cases of diabetes in North America and Europe.[1]

Diabetes is a chronic condition, typically requiring lifelong monitoring, management and treatment. This will usually involve a mixture of lifestyle changes and medications, though the exact methods will depend on the type of diabetes experienced. Though complications are possible, the majority of people with diabetes are able to manage the condition successfully and lead normal lives.[1]

The signs and symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are largely the same. The onset of type 1 diabetes, however, tends to be far more rapid than type 2 diabetes, which generally presents over a number of months or years. What’s more, the reason(s) why they develop may be different and may differ from person to person.

Read more about Diabetes »

Signs of type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes develops when the pancreas, a glandular organ responsible for the production of a number of important hormones, ceases to produce insulin, a hormone that helps the body to absorb glucose among other functions. This causes blood sugar levels to become too high. It is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults, though it can affect people of any age and will typically require lifelong management.[2]

Signs of type 1 diabetes include:[2][3]

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased need to urinate
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes typically appear relatively quickly, over a number of days or weeks, and settle down soon after treatment has begun.[2] However, if treatment is not received, glucose levels can become very high. This can lead to dehydration and/or drowsiness and can be life-threatening.

Although type 1 diabetes cannot be cured, it can be managed effectively. Treatment involves daily monitoring of blood glucose levels, typically using a monitor at home. On average, two to four measurements will need to be taken daily, normally prior to meals, one to two hours after meals and before bed. When glucose levels are too high, insulin injections will be necessary.[2]

Doctors and specialists will provide advice on how to properly administer insulin. Most people with type 1 diabetes will need between two and four insulin injections per day, with the amount of insulin necessary dependent on factors such as the person’s level of activity and diet.

People displaying possible signs of type 1 diabetes should see a doctor for evaluation. In addition, the free Ada app can be used to carry out a symptom assessment.

Signs of type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body ceases to make enough insulin; the body’s cells do not use insulin as they should – something called insulin resistance – or a combination of the two. The condition is far more common than type 1 diabetes and is particularly prevalent in mature adults, typically those over the age of 40.[4] People of any age can develop type 2 diabetes, however, and it is becoming increasingly common for younger people to develop the condition.

Signs that a person may be at risk of type 2 diabetes include:[4]

  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having pre-diabetes, when glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to constitute diabetes
  • Having had diabetes or pre-diabetes or diabetes during pregnancy

Signs and symptoms of having type 2 diabetes include:[1][4][5]

  • Increased need to urinate
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Tiredness
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision

In contrast to type 1 diabetes, the symptoms of type 2 diabetes will typically develop gradually over time, sometimes over a number of months or years. Due to this, it may be difficult to detect the condition and seek appropriate medical attention. Furthermore, in cases where glucose levels are not extremely high, no symptoms at all may develop.[4] If this is the case, the condition may only be diagnosed following tests for other conditions.

Treatment of type 2 diabetes generally centers on establishing and maintaining a healthy diet and getting sufficient amounts of exercise. In some cases, medication to help the body better respond to insulin, such as metformin, may also be prescribed.[5]

People displaying possible signs of type 2 diabetes should see a doctor for evaluation. In addition, the free Ada app can be used to carry out a symptom assessment.

Read more about Type 2 Diabetes »

Other types of diabetes

Although type 1 and type 2 are by far the most common forms of the conditions, other types of diabetes also exist. In some cases, these rarer types of diabetes are classified as subtypes of type 1 or 2.

Signs of gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that occurs for the first time during pregnancy. The condition presents risks such as premature birth, miscarriage and the need for a cesarean section, though with proper management, these risks can be significantly reduced.[6]

Signs that a pregnant woman may be at risk of gestational diabetes include:[6]

  • Having experienced the condition during previous pregnancies
  • A short amount of time between two pregnancies – within a year, for example
  • Having previously experienced stillbirth
  • Having previously given birth to a baby with a very high birth weight, typically 4.5 kg or more
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Being of South Asian, Caribbean or Middle Eastern descent

Gestational diabetes does not typically cause any signs or symptoms and will only be detected as a result of routine testing. However, in some cases, signs and symptoms may include:[7]

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased need to urinate
  • A dry mouth
  • Tiredness

These signs and symptoms, however, can also be normal features of pregnancy and do not necessarily mean that gestational diabetes has developed. If they are being experienced, pregnant women should talk to their doctor or midwife who will be able to identify the root cause.

Read more about possible Pregnancy Complications

Signs of type 3 diabetes (Alzheimer’s disease)

There is evidence to suggest that Alzheimer’s disease represents a type of diabetes that selectively affects the brain.[8] This is because, in some cases, the progression of Alzheimer’s may be linked to insulin resistance. It is proposed, therefore, that the condition should be referred to as type 3 diabetes.

A person in the early stages of type 3 diabetes may not have elevated blood sugar levels. Instead, they may display signs and symptoms traditionally associated with Alzheimer’s disease including:[9]

  • Memory loss that disrupts day-to-day life
  • Difficulty planning and problem solving
  • Visual difficulties
  • Forgetting words, phrases or names
  • Mood and personality changes

Symptoms may differ from person to person. These symptoms may also not be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but a sign of another condition or simply the natural process of ageing.

If you or a loved one are displaying possible signs of Alzheimer's disease, consult a doctor for evaluation. In addition, the free Ada app can be used to carry out a symptom assessment.

Signs of maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY)

Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY) is a rare hereditary form of diabetes caused by the mutation of a single gene. If a parent has the mutation, they stand a 50 percent chance of passing the condition to each one of their children.[10]

MODY is classified by some as a subtype of type 2 diabetes. However, it differs from type 2 diabetes in areas including the age at which it is typically diagnosed – usually below the age of 25 in MODY, over the age of 40 in type 2, also, the number of genes involved – one, as opposed to multiple – and the way in which it is passed on. MODY is inherited, whereas only the risk of type 2 diabetes is inherited.[11]

In many cases, the signs and symptoms of MODY are mild, and the condition may go unnoticed, only to be identified through routine testing or testing for another condition. If there are symptoms, they are typically similar to other types of diabetes, including:[11]

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased need to urinate
  • Weight gain
  • Slow healing of wounds
  • Frequent infections

Signs of neonatal diabetes

Neonatal diabetes is a very rare form of diabetes, typically diagnosed in children under six months of age. The condition is caused by a gene mutation.

Signs and symptoms of neonatal diabetes include:[12]

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Dehydration

There are two types of neonatal diabetes: permanent neonatal diabetes mellitus (PNDM) and transient neonatal diabetes mellitus (TNDM). In cases of TNDM, the condition will normally develop shortly after birth – usually within a number of weeks – and disappear within a few months. Relapse, however, is possible, and diabetes may return in adolescence or adulthood. In cases of PNDM, diabetes is experienced for life.[13]

Diabetes diagnosis

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), diagnosing diabetes should first involve an evaluation of the symptoms being experienced. Following this, tests to measure blood glucose levels should be undertaken. A reading of 11.1 mmol/l or more will typically indicate diabetes. To confirm the diagnosis, multiple tests will generally be necessary – sometimes after a period of fasting – especially if no symptoms are present.[14][15] Doctors will provide information on how to fast safely and prepare for the tests.

Read more about diagnosing diabetes »

Diabetes prevention

Only type 2 diabetes is preventable. This is because this type of diabetes is commonly caused or exacerbated by unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Adopting a healthy, balanced diet is the most important factor in helping to prevent type 2 diabetes. This should be a diet low in carbohydrates, sugar and fat, and high in fruits, vegetables and grains.[16]

Other ways to help prevent type 2 diabetes include:[16]

  • Losing weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Stopping smoking
  • Reducing alcohol intake

Read more about how to prevent diabetes »

Diabetes FAQs

Q: Is there a difference in the signs of diabetes between men and women?
A: Generally, men and women experience the same signs and symptoms of diabetes. However, though sexual dysfunction can be a symptom for both sexes, the way in which this is experienced differs. Many males with diabetes suffer erectile dysfunction and impotence, while women may experience vaginitis, cystitis, problems with viginal lubrication, pain during sex and difficulty reaching an orgasm.[17][18]

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  3. UpToDate. “Patient education: Diabetes mellitus type 1: Overview (Beyond the Basics).” February 27, 2017. Accessed June 12, 2018.

  4. Patient. “Type 2 Diabetes.” September 27, 2017. Accessed June 13, 2018.

  5. Diabetes. “Type 2 Diabetes.” Accessed June 13, 2018.

  6. Patient. “Diabetes and Pregnancy.” November 18, 2016. Accessed June 13, 2018.

  7. NHS Choices. “Gestational diabetes.” August 5, 2016. Accessed June 13, 2018.

  8. NCBI. Alzheimer's Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes–Evidence Reviewed. November, 2008. Accessed June 13, 2018.

  9. Diabetes Self-Management. “Type 3 Diabetes Symptoms.” September 6, 2017. Accessed June 14, 2018.

  10. Diabetes UK. “Maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY).” Accessed June 14, 2018.

  11. The Diabetes Council. “Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY).” March 6, 2018. Accessed June 14, 2018.

  12. Diabetes. [“Neonatal diabetes.”(https://www.diabetes.co.uk/neonatal-diabetes.html) Accessed June 14, 2018.

  13. Orphanet. “Neonatal diabetes mellitus.” March, 2007. Accessed June 14, 2018.

  14. Diabetes UK. “Diagnostic criteria for diabetes.” Accessed June 14, 2018.

  15. World Health Organisation. “Definition and diagnosis of diabetes mellitus and intermediate hyperglycaemia.” 2006. Accessed June 14, 2018.

  16. Diabetes. “Prevention of Diabetes Mellitus.” Accessed June 14, 2018.

  17. Diabetes. “Diabetes and Erectile Dysfunction.” Accessed June 14, 2018.

  18. Diabetes. “Sexual Dysfunction in Women.” Accessed June 14, 2018.