Early Signs of Diabetes: Watch for These Symptoms

Doctor discussing symptoms and test results with patient

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Diabetes is characterized by glucose, or sugar, levels that are too high in the blood. This is because the body is either unable to produce insulin, like in type 1 diabetes, or it isn’t able to use it properly, like in type 2 diabetes.

Insulin acts like a key that opens cells to allow glucose to leave the blood and enter cells to be used for energy. Without insulin, the cells stay closed and glucose builds up in the blood, causing blood glucose levels to become too high. Over a prolonged period of time, this can lead to diabetes.

Though commonly diagnosed during early childhood or adolescence, type 1 diabetes can occur at any age and in people of any race, size, or shape. If you have an immediate family member with type 1 diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing it. White Americans are more likely than Black or Latinx Americans to develop type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It is more frequently diagnosed in adulthood, though the number of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has risen significantly in the past two decades.

While anyone can develop type 2 diabetes, certain races and ethnicities are at a higher risk. In the United States these include Black, Latinx, American Indian, Asian, and Pacific Islander populations.

Other risk factors for type 2 diabetes include having an immediate family member with type 2 diabetes, being overweight, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL “good” cholesterol, polycystic ovary syndrome, or having had diabetes during pregnancy.

Regardless of type, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of diabetes to aid in early diagnosis and management of the disease and prevent severe complications.

Potential Warning Signs of Diabetes

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Early Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

Many early signs and symptoms of diabetes may be subtle and easily written off as something minor or nothing to worry about. However, they should be taken seriously, as quick action could prevent more serious symptoms and complications from occurring. 

People with type 1 diabetes tend to experience a sudden onset of symptoms, while people with type 2 diabetes often experience a more gradual onset. Most of the early signs of diabetes are the same for all types of diabetes. However, a couple tend to be unique to the type.

Increase in Frequency of Urination

The kidneys help process and filter glucose, with much of it normally being reabsorbed into the body. However, when blood glucose gets very high, it can be too demanding for the kidneys to process, causing glucose to spill over into the urine and be excreted from the body.

If you notice you or your child are urinating more than is normal for you, it is worth investigating, especially if other early signs of diabetes accompany it. 

For children, sometimes this can present as nighttime bedwetting and having accidents after they have been potty trained and normally stay dry at night. In adults, you might not notice the increased frequency at first, but be aware if it leads to waking at night to urinate.

Frequent UTIs or Yeast Infections

As mentioned above, having too high of blood glucose can cause your urine to have glucose in it when normally glucose is not found in urine. The presence of glucose in the urinary tract and genital area may lead to infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) or yeast infections.

Researchers also theorize that both poor circulation and immune response, common in people with diabetes (especially uncontrolled diabetes), may also play a role in the increased risk of yeast and urinary tract infections.

These infections are more common in women but can occur in men as well. If you are a woman and find yourself with recurrent UTIs or yeast infections, or are a man who has been diagnosed with one, ask your healthcare provider if diabetes might be to blame.

Sudden Worsening Vision 

High blood glucose levels cause the lens of the eye to swell, changing your vision. Blurred vision and not making out fine details of what you see often occur when blood glucose levels are too high.

Contact your doctor if you notice a sudden change or worsening in your vision, as this could be a sign of diabetes. The good news is, your vision should return to normal after getting your blood glucose levels back in normal ranges—so no need to buy new glasses.

Extreme Fatigue

While experts are unsure about the exact causes, many people with high blood glucose levels experience fatigue as a symptom. Possible reasons include changes in blood glucose levels, poor sleep quality, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, having multiple other diabetes symptoms, being overweight, and generally feeling unwell.

Consult your doctor if you are more tired than usual, up to the point that fatigue is interfering with your daily life, especially if you have other signs of diabetes, as well.

Slow-Healing Cuts

Slow-healing wounds, including cuts, grazes, blisters, and bruises, or wounds that worsen are a more serious sign of diabetes and should be addressed with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Poor blood circulation, decreased immune system, and inflammation are all thought to be causes of slow wound healing in diabetes.

Slow-healing cuts and wounds can be especially troublesome if they affect the feet. If foot wounds are not identified promptly and treated properly, it can lead to more severe complications, including amputation. If you notice cuts and other wounds not healing as usual, it’s best to get it checked out by a doctor.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Losing weight without trying and not knowing why should always be investigated by a healthcare provider. Unintended weight loss can be a symptom of several conditions, including diabetes. It is more common in people with type 1 diabetes. 

This unexplained weight loss may be caused by the lack of insulin in the body preventing glucose from getting into cells to be used for energy. When glucose is not available as an energy source, the body starts using fat and muscle for energy, often leading to weight loss. 

Extreme Thirst or Hunger

Feeling hungrier and/or thirstier than usual, despite eating and drinking more, can be a sign of diabetes. When the cells in your body cannot remove the glucose from your blood and use it properly, it lacks the energy it needs to function properly. It then sends signals for more energy—leading to increased hunger.  

At the same time, when blood glucose levels are too high, the body draws water from tissues, such as muscles, and puts it into the bloodstream to try to dilute the excess glucose. This leaves your tissues dehydrated, causing a thirst response.

If your sudden increased thirst or hunger cannot be explained by other means, visit your healthcare provider to check for diabetes or another medical condition.

Tingling or Numbness in Extremities

Tingling, numbness, or pain in your hand, fingers, feet, or toes is a sign of nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy). This symptom may be common in someone who has had uncontrolled diabetes for a long period of time but also presents in people with newly diagnosed diabetes.

Steps for Prevention

While there is no known way to prevent or cure type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with lifestyle changes:

  • Losing weight, even 5% to 7% of your body weight, can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Becoming physically active can increase insulin sensitivity, improving blood glucose levels. Regular physical activity of at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, is recommended.
  • Making healthier food choices, such as reducing the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages you consume or adding more vegetables to your diet, can directly impact blood glucose levels, decreasing your risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Learning to manage stress will decrease stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, that can cause blood glucose levels to be too high. 

When to See a Doctor

If you have any of the signs and symptoms of diabetes, it is important to get checked by your healthcare provider. The tests used to check for diabetes are simple blood tests. There are different screening tests available to test for diabetes and prediabetes.

  • The hemoglobin A1C (A1C or HbA1C) test is a blood test that looks at the average of your blood glucose levels over the past three months. You do not have to be fasting for this test. It’s also used as a measure of diabetes management.
  • The fasting blood glucose test checks your blood glucose level after not eating for eight to 12 hours, usually overnight. It’s also used to monitor blood glucose levels with diabetes. 
  • The oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) is a blood test performed after fasting overnight and then drinking a beverage provided by your doctor that is high in sugar. Blood samples are then drawn several times over two to three hours.
  • The random blood glucose test is a blood test that checks your blood sugar level at a single point in time, fasting or not. Results of this test can vary widely depending on several factors, such as food intake. This test is only used for diabetes diagnosis when other classic symptoms of diabetes are also present.

Blood Sugar Target Numbers

The following are blood glucose target numbers, based on test type, and levels that are indicators of prediabetes or diabetes:

A1C test:

  • Normal: less than 5.7%
  • Prediabetes: 5.7% to 6.4%
  • Diabetes: 6.5% or higher

Fasting blood glucose test:

  • Normal: less than 100 mg/dl
  • Prediabetes: 100 mg/dl to 125 mg/dl
  • Diabetes: 126 mg/dl or higher

Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT):

  • Normal: less than 140 mg/dl
  • Prediabetes: 140 mg/dl to 199 mg/dl
  • Diabetes: 200 mg/dl or higher

Random glucose test:

  • Diabetes: 200 mg/dl or higher

A Word From Verywell

By taking care of your general health and being in tune with your body, you can be more aware of when something seems off. If you notice any of these signs of diabetes or for anything else that makes you feel different, it’s critical to seek testing and examination with your primary care provider and see a specialist as needed.

Diabetes is a manageable condition, but early detection and treatment under the care of a trusted medical professional are key.

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Article Sources
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