woman talking to doctor about first signs of diabetes

What are the First Signs of Diabetes?

There are close to 34 million diabetics in the USA or about 10% of the population. In addition, there are countless millions with prediabetes who have not been diagnosed yet. What are the causes of diabetes

Diabetes is a serious lifelong disorder, which, if not well managed, can lead to life and limb-threatening complications. Diabetes is a disorder that can creep up at any time and it is important to know the early signs of the disease. If you have a family history of diabetes or have risk factors for diabetes, here are some of the first signs of diabetes that you need to watch for.

  1. Frequent urination: Also referred to as polyuria, frequent urination is one of the earliest signs of diabetes. Frequent urination is most common at night and may occur several times every night. The urination may be worsened if you consume cola beverages or eat sweetened foods just before bedtime. The kidneys cannot keep up with the glucose in the blood and spillage occurs in the urine. A check of the urine will reveal high levels of sugar.
  2. Constant thirst: Because of the frequent urination and loss of body fluids, you will also start to develop extreme thirst (also known as polydipsia). Even after drinking ample fluids, the thirst will not be quenched easily.
  3. Increased hunger: Because the sugar in your body is not utilized due to the lack of insulin, the tissues will not produce any energy. Hence your body will send signals to the brain that will cause increased hunger pangs. You will feel hungry even after you have had a decent breakfast or lunch. Known as polyphagia, this is a very early sign of diabetes.
  4. Paresthesia: Another one of the first signs of diabetes is what is known as paresthesia. You may note abnormal sensations in your hands and feet like numbness, tingling, or pain. This is a sign of nerve damage caused by high sugar levels. In most cases, the nerve damage occurs gradually but it can, sometimes, also be the initial presentation of diabetes.
  5. Non-healing wounds: You may develop a cut on your foot and notice that it is not healing or healing very slowly. The reason is that elevated levels of sugar can damage your body’s immune system, and this can lead to delay in healing and susceptibility to infections. In addition, high glucose levels, as one of the causes of diabetes, can cause narrowing of the blood vessels, which results in less oxygen getting to the tissues.
  6. Blurry vision: Blurry vision is also one of the first signs of diabetes. The high glucose damages the small vessels in the eye causing fluid leakage that leads to blurry vision. In most cases, the blurriness will resolve once the glucose levels are lowered.
  7. Skin discoloration: Skin discoloration is another early sign of diabetes. You may notice the development of a velvety, purplish rash in the armpit, groin, or along the breast creases. Known as acanthosis nigricans, this discoloration is not painful or itchy. It is, however, often a sign that your body has developed insulin resistance.
  8. Recurring infections: Recurring infections are common when blood sugar levels are high. Bacteria and yeast thrive in the presence of sugar, and you may develop repeated urinary tract infections. In addition, you may develop an infection of your gums, nails, and skin. Besides bacteria, you may also be prone to fungal infections that occur around the skinfolds, nails, groin, genitals, and mouth.
  9. Dry itchy skin: Dehydration can also lead to dry skin that is very itchy. Constant scratching is a common complaint by some people and relief is only provided after drinking copious amounts of fluids. The itching may be compounded by a fungal infection and poor circulation in the lower extremities.
  10. Mouth and lip dryness: Dryness of the mouth and lips are also common complaints and often occur because of the dehydration caused by the high sugar levels. The dryness of the mouth can make it difficult to speak and swallow food. The lips may be parched and appear cracked. Sores and blisters around the lips are also not uncommon.
  11. Weight gain or weight loss: In some people, the inability to use glucose as energy causes the body to break down fat and protein stores, which leads to unintended weight loss. In others, the individual may be constantly hungry and eat voraciously, leading to weight gain.
  12. Mood changes: It is very common for some individuals with high sugars to be irritable, anxious, or have mood shifts.
  13. Tiredness: Malaise and fatigue are common early symptoms of diabetes. The body is not able to use the glucose for energy and the individual will feel tired and have low exercise tolerance. The fatigue can be disabling. Other factors that may contribute to the fatigue include:
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Poor sleep
  • Obesity
  • Frequent visits to the bathroom
  • Constant scratching of the skin
  • Stress

What To Do Next

If you experience one or more of the first signs of diabetes, it is important to see your healthcare provider. A simple blood test can quickly reveal if you have developed diabetes. The test called an A1c, allows the doctor to determine if you are still in the early stages (prediabetes) or have already developed diabetes. 

The earlier the diagnosis of diabetes is discovered, the sooner treatment can be started. If you have prediabetes, then only lifestyle changes may be needed to prevent full-blown diabetes. If you have already incurred diabetes, however, you may need a combination of lifestyle changes plus medication to lower your blood sugar.


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