About 1 in 10 people in the United States have diabetes, and 1 in 5 are unaware they have diabetes. In addition, 96 million Americans – more than 1 in 3– are prediabetic, of which, 80% are unaware. These shocking statistics from the CDC prove just how important it is for people to be aware of the warning signs and risk factors involved with diabetes so that they know when to go to the doctor.

Some of the symptoms of diabetes are easy to miss; others can’t be ignored. It’s important to know some of the early warning signs that you may be pre-diabetic or even diabetic, so you know when to visit the doctor. It’s also a good idea to do what you can to learn about your family history, so you can have forewarning about certain risk factors for diabetes.

Signs You Should Visit Your Doctor

Although there are some symptoms of diabetes that overlap with lots of other illnesses, like fatigue, so they may not be instant indicators that you need to rush to the doctor. However, certain tell-tale signs indicate you either have or are developing diabetes.

Doctor speaking with patient

Patches of Darkened Skin

One of the biggest indicators is a darkening of the skin within the folds and creases of your body. Those often happen near the armpits, groin, and neck. The elbows, knees, knuckles, lips, palms, soles of the feet, and underside of the breast are also common areas for the patches to develop. Those spots will have a darker color and a thick, velvety texture. In some cases, those patches may also itch or have an odor. That condition is called acanthosis nigricans and occurs in people with prediabetes and diabetes. It’s a symptom, rather than a disease in and of itself. Although some cosmetic treatments can address the spots, like skin lighteners, laser therapy, and oral acne medications, the better route is to treat diabetes itself. The skin will fix itself once the diabetes is under control.

Blurred Vision

When blood sugar levels change quickly, varying from normal to too low or too high, or any combination of those changes, it can cause your eye lens to swell. That changes the shape of the lens and blurs your vision. Diabetes may also cause fluid to leak into the lens of your eye, or cause it to dry out, both of which will affect your vision. If you notice things seem blurry in a drastic way that your regular eyeglasses aren’t correcting, it’s important to go see a doctor.

Senior Woman Adjusting Glasses Due to Poor Vision


High glucose levels in the blood can injure nerves, leading to numbness. That’s called diabetic neuropathy and it is usually most impactful in the legs, feet, and hands. That nerve damage can be extremely serious, in some cases also impacting the digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels, and heart. Although the severity of the condition varies, it’s an extremely common symptom, affecting as much as half of the diabetic patients in the U.S. Since that symptom stands out very distinctly, it should be an easy warning sign, letting you know that if you’re feeling random numbness in your extremities, you should immediately talk to your doctor about the potential that you could be diabetic.

Hand Holding Wrist Due to Numbness caused by Diabetes

Increased Fluid Intake and Urination

When people are diabetic, their kidneys have to work overtime to absorb and filter the excess glucose that’s built up in their blood. When your blood glucose levels reach a point your kidneys can’t handle, the excess sugar is secreted in your urine. That doesn’t just get rid of the problem, though; getting it out in your urine drags fluid out of your tissues, too, which makes you dehydrated. Since you feel thirsty as a result, you’ll have to use the bathroom more often.

The increased frequency and urgency of urination is called polyuria, and people often notice it because of an increase in how often they wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. They may also catch themselves urinating in larger quantities when they do visit the bathroom. That urine often smells sweet or fruity in people with advanced cases of Type 2 diabetes.

If you notice you’re drinking more water but not feeling hydrated, or that you’re going to the bathroom more often but peeing out a larger volume of liquid, visit your doctor.

Risk Factors

Some people are more susceptible to the development of diabetes. People with these risk factors should be on higher alert than the average person and should more urgently see a doctor if they experience any symptoms they’re even remotely concerned about.


Obesity is the number one risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Obese people are about six times more likely than those with a healthy weight to develop diabetes. The exact cause-and-effect relationship between weight and diabetes is scientifically complex and still being studied, but researchers agree it’s likely largely to do with fat cells releasing pro-inflammatory chemicals that affect insulin sensitivity. Lack of exercise can worsen weight gain and therefore impact diabetes risk as well.