Type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease that affects more than 9 percent of the U.S. population, or about 29 million people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a quarter — some 8 million people — remain undiagnosed. With complications including nerve damage, kidney damage, poor blood circulation, and even death, it’s important for us all to know the early signs of type 2 diabetes.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition that makes it difficult for the body to manage glucose levels in the blood — something typically regulated by a hormone known as insulin. This can be because your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, the cells don’t respond to insulin correctly, or a combination of both.
Obesity is a major risk factor for the disease. While most common in adults, it is increasingly being diagnosed in children, in part due to the childhood obesity epidemic.
Long-term uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to complications like nerve damage, kidney damage, hearing impairment, skin problems, eye damage, and heart disease. Some of these complications, like poor circulation, can eventually lead to amputations, most commonly of the feet or legs.
Preventing these complications requires a diagnosis and consistent treatment. Identifying the early symptoms of type 2 diabetes can make this possible.
The early signs of this disease are not always obvious. They may develop slowly over time, making them hard to identify. Many are asymptomatic. Because they can worsen over a period of years, type 2 diabetes may remain undiagnosed longer than other, more obvious conditions.
1. Frequent Urination
Also known as polyuria, frequent and/or excessive urination is a sign that your blood sugar is high enough to start to spill into the urine. Because your kidneys can’t keep up with the high glucose levels, they allow some of that sugar to go into your urine, where it draws additional water, making you have to urinate often.
2. Extreme Thirst
Extreme thirst is one of the first noticeable symptoms of diabetes for some. It’s tied to high blood sugar levels, which cause thirst, and is exacerbated by frequent urination. Often, drinking won’t satisfy the thirst.
3. Increased Hunger
Intense hunger, or polyphagia, is also an early warning sign of diabetes. Your body uses the sugar in your blood to feed your cells. When the cells can’t absorb the sugar (because of a lack of insulin), your body looks for more sources of fuel, causing persistent hunger.
4. Nerve Pain or Numbness
You might experience tingling or numbness in your hands, fingers, feet, and toes. This is a sign of diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage. You are most likely to experience this after several years of living with diabetes.
5. Slow Healing Wounds
There are several reasons why a wound will heal more slowly if you have diabetes. Poor circulation, the effects of high blood sugar on blood vessels, and immunodeficiency are just a few. If you experience frequent infections or wounds that are slow to heal, it could be an early symptom.
6. Blurred Vision
Blurred vision occurs early in unmanaged diabetes. It can be a sign of high blood sugar levels, which cause fluid to shift into the lens of the eye. This usually resolves when blood sugar levels normalize.
7. Dark Skin Patches
Dark discoloration in the folds of your skin is called acanthosis nigricans, and is another early warning sign of type 2 diabetes. They are most common in the armpits, neck, and groin regions, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you have any suspicion that you may be experiencing the early signs of type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor right away. As with most serious diseases, successful treatment and reduced risk of complications depend on swift diagnosis. Left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to lifelong impairment or death.