Introduction

Despite being a common and relatively well understood condition, detecting type 2 diabetes early in its development is not always easy. Because the onset can be gradual, early symptoms are often mild, causing many type 2 diabetics to remain unaware of their condition until it begins to negatively impact their health.

Though diabetes has the potential to cause many complications throughout one’s life, early detection and treatment can drastically reduce the risk of complications and can improve a person’s quality of life. Accordingly, it is important to be aware of some of the telltale indicators that may help you and your doctor identify your type 2 diabetes status as early as possible.

Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

This list contains some such possible early symptoms, but keep in mind that every presentation of type 2 diabetes is different, and not every individual will experience these, or indeed any, early symptoms. Always discuss any concerns about your health with your doctor.

1. Increased Thirst and Frequent Urination

If you notice yourself urinating more frequently and craving a beverage all the time, type 2 diabetes may be the culprit. This is because type 2 diabetes often causes elevated blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels increase the body tries to remove the excess blood sugar by filtering it out in the kidneys and passing it out in your urine. In order to flush out this excess glucose, the body must also pass other fluids from the body. This depletion of bodily fluids can lead to dehydration and thirst.

Diabetes Symptoms - Thirst

2. Fatigue and Weakness

One way to stay vigilant about type 2 diabetes is to take careful note of your energy levels throughout the day. Experiencing greater fatigue or weakness than you usually experience may be a sign of type 2 diabetes, because high blood sugar levels caused by the condition can interfere with the body’s ability to use and store energy. When insulin resistance limits the ability of your cells to import fuel (glucose) from the bloodstream, the resulting energy shortage can leave you much less able to meet the demands of the day without feeling exhausted.

Conversely, high blood sugar levels can cause the body to produce excessive insulin, which can lead to an overcompensation and a drop in blood sugar levels below a normal range. Low blood sugar can cause weakness, fatigue, shakiness, and confusion. Whether due to hyper- or hypo-glycemia, type 2 diabetes can do a number on your body’s energy regulating abilities, leaving you in an energy deficit.

Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms - Fatigue

3. Blurred Vision

If you notice that your eyesight isn’t what it used to be, diabetes is probably not the first culprit you’d think of. However, elevated blood sugar levels caused by type 2 diabetes can cause fluid to collect in your macula, which plays an important role in focusing your eyes. When enough fluid collects, the delicate shape of the structures in your eyes can be warped and distorted, making it difficult to focus.

In addition, the high blood sugar levels caused by type 2 diabetes may damage the small blood vessels that supply the eyes, leading to poor circulation and decreased oxygen supply. This process is called diabetic retinopathy, and can damage the retina, the part of the eye that processes images. This damage can cause vision changes such as blurriness, floaters, and can even progress to permanent blindness. To minimize long term impairment of your vision, it is crucial to begin treating these conditions immediately.

Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms - Blurred Vision

4. Slow Wound Healing

You may notice wounds on your body healing slower than you would expect. This symptom may occur in type 2 diabetics for several reasons. For one, elevated blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the wound. This can cause poor circulation and decreased oxygen supply to the wound, slowing the healing process.

High blood sugar levels may also damage the immune system and collagen production. A weaker immune system has greater difficulty fighting off infections, which can yield a slower healing process. Diabetes can also reduce the production of collagen, a protein that helps wounds heal. The combined impacts of these type 2 diabetes symptoms can lead to a noticeable delay in wound healing.

Type 2 Diabetes - Slow Wound Healing

5. Numbness or Tingling in the Hands and Feet

Chronically high blood sugar levels, like those often occurring in poorly treated cases of diabetes, can damage the small blood vessels that supply the nerves. This leads to poor circulation which in turn limits crucial oxygen supplies to nerves. Like any tissue that is starved of oxygen, the nerves can suffer often permanent damage as a result.

The medical term for this occurrence is “diabetic neuropathy”. Diabetic neuropathy can affect many different types of nerves including sensory, motor, and autonomic nerves. Sensory neuropathy can affect the nerves that are responsible for sensing pain, temperature, and touch, which is commonly experienced as numbness, tingling or pain in the hands and feet.

Numbness or Tingling in the Hands and Feet

6. Patches of Darkened Skin

Patches of darkened skin on the neck or torso may be easily mistaken for a bruise, a birthmark, or a lingering tan; however, it may also be a symptom of type 2 diabetes. This symptom, known to doctors as acanthosis nigricans, is a darkening of the skin in certain areas due to excessive insulin levels. Insulin resistance, which is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, can cause the body to compensate by producing high levels of insulin. The increased insulin production can cause an increase in the production of skin cells, leading to thickened, dark patches of skin. You will often find these darkened patches in the armpits, groin, neck, and other body folds.

Diabetes Symptoms - Acanthosis Nigrican

7. Unusual Weight Loss or Gain

Any unusual or unexplained weight loss or gain should be noted. To be clear, there are a variety of reasons, medical and otherwise, that might explain a person’s change in weight. However, either may also occur due to type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes affects the body’s ability to properly use and store energy, which can lead to atypical attempts by the body to regulate its energy needs. For instance, insulin resistance can prevent the body from using glucose to meet its needs. As a result, it may start to break down fat and muscle for energy, leading to weight loss. Conversely, when the body is producing excess insulin to lower high blood sugar levels, the extra insulin can cause the body to store more fat and make it difficult to lose weight.

Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms - Weight Gain

8. Hunger Pangs or Nausea

Type 2 diabetes may cause hunger pangs and nausea because of the body’s resulting inability to properly use and store glucose. When the body is not able to use insulin properly, it can’t effectively turn glucose into energy, and may therefore send signals to the brain that it needs to consume more food. These can manifest as hunger pangs, even when a person believes they are properly fed.

Additionally, when the body can’t use glucose for energy, it starts to break down fat and muscle for energy, which can produce chemicals called ketones. High levels of ketones in the blood can cause nausea and stomach upset.

Woman holding her stomach from hunger pants

9. Irritability or Mood Swings

Like many other symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes, irritability and mood swings can occur because of the body’s difficulty in regulating blood sugar levels. Because sugar is fuel for the brain, blood sugar levels that are too high or too low can affect the brain’s ability to function properly, leading to changes in mood and behavior such as irritability and mood swings. These symptoms are caused by the brain not getting enough glucose to function properly. Conversely, high blood sugar levels can cause inflammation in the brain, also leading to changes in mood and behavior.

Senior male experiencing stress

10. Recurrent Infections

Do you have a runny nose or an abscess that just won’t seem to leave you alone? Recurrent infections are common among type 2 diabetics and may present as lingering or repeating episodes of illness or local infection.

Heightened blood sugar levels caused by type 2 diabetes can weaken the immune system, making it more difficult for your body to fight off infections. This occurs because high blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels that supply immune cells, reducing their ability to move to the site of infection and fight off the invading microorganisms. High blood sugar levels can also encourage the growth of bacteria and yeast, which can lead to infections. Some common infections you may see frequently return include urinary tract infections, skin infections, and vaginal infections.

Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms - Man with runny nose

The Importance of Early Detection

Detecting type 2 diabetes early allows for early interventions, which are generally more likely to produce favorable outcomes. Conversely, type 2 diabetes left unchecked can lead to a variety of severe and often irreversible complications. These complications often take more severe forms of the symptoms listed above, and may include:

  1. Damage to blood vessels and nerves: High blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels and nerves, leading to complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, and amputations.
  2. Vision problems: High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the eyes, leading to vision problems such as diabetic retinopathy, which can cause blindness.
  3. Kidney damage: High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, leading to kidney damage and kidney failure.
  4. Skin and foot problems: High blood sugar levels can slow down the healing of cuts, sores and infections, making them more susceptible to complications.
  5. Cognitive decline: Type 2 diabetes can affect cognitive function, and people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing cognitive decline, including dementia.

Early detection and treatment can help reduce the risk of these complications and increase the odds of an improved quality of life for type 2 diabetics.

Conclusion

Type 2 diabetes is an extremely common affliction among Americans. Its onset can be gradual and imperceptible to those not aware of how it manifests. Noticing any of the signs and symptoms early may help delay or mitigate the complications associated with diabetes. As a result, it is imperative to recognize and treat this condition as soon as possible.

These 10 common symptoms, though not an exhaustive list, provide a foundation to support your awareness of how type 2 diabetes may present itself and to support the early detection of the disease. It’s important to remember that it may be possible to manage type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes and medication. With proper treatment and management, people with type 2 diabetes can live long and healthy lives. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect you have type 2 diabetes, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.