The symptoms of diabetes can appear fairly early, but you may not always recognize them as diabetes symptoms.

Knowing what signs to look for and what they might mean can help you recognize early indications of diabetes and get medical evaluation and treatment sooner.

This article will go over what signs and symptoms of diabetes to watch for and when to contact a doctor.

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Illustration by Alyssa Kiefer

Diabetes symptoms may occur when blood sugar levels in your body become atypically elevated. In early diabetes, there may not be any symptoms or they may be very mild. The most common early symptoms of diabetes include:

  • increased thirst
  • increased hunger
  • excessive fatigue
  • increased urination, especially at night
  • dry mouth

Symptoms can vary from one person to the next. They also depend on which type of diabetes you have.

Early signs associated with type 1 diabetes

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes tend to begin abruptly and dramatically. Type 1 diabetes is most often seen in children, adolescents, and young adults.

However, type 1 diabetes can develop at any age. In addition to the symptoms listed above, people with type 1 diabetes may notice quick and sudden weight loss.

Early signs associated with type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type. Although it primarily develops in adults, it’s beginning to show up more frequently in younger people. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • being overweight
  • being sedentary
  • having a family history of type 2 diabetes

Many people with type 2 diabetes don’t experience any symptoms. Sometimes, these symptoms are slow to develop.

Symptoms of diabetes may seem harmless, especially in early stages. The most common symptoms of diabetes, such as persistent thirst and fatigue, are often vague and can seem like everyday symptoms that aren’t very significant.

If you’re experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, you should speak with a doctor about being screened for diabetes:

If you’re concerned about diabetes, talk with a doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing.

Even if your symptoms of diabetes are minor, it’s important that your diabetes be treated. Untreated diabetes can be very dangerous.

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your situation and warning signs of inadequately treated diabetes that you should be aware of.

Untreated diabetes can lead to a variety of issues, including:

  • foot conditions
  • nerve damage
  • damaged blood vessels
  • protein in your urine
  • problems with pancreas functioning
  • kidney conditions
  • excessive urination
  • gastroparesis, leading to heartburn and nausea
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • higher risk of infections
  • cataracts and glaucoma
  • increased risk of stroke

Complications can occur with diabetes if it’s not treated or if it’s undertreated. If your overall health is not managed, this can also increase your risk of complications. Diabetes does increase the risk of developing other health conditions, some of which can be serious.

You can help reduce the risk of diabetes complications by following your treatment plan and adopting the lifestyle changes that your doctor recommends.


If your blood sugar levels become too high, you may develop ketoacidosis. This is more common in people who have type 1 diabetes.

People with type 2 diabetes are less likely to experience ketoacidosis because insulin is still being produced. This complication can happen quickly and is considered a medical emergency.

Ketoacidosis can cause:

  • deep, rapid breathing
  • nausea or vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • flushed complexion
  • confusion
  • fruity-smelling breath
  • coma

Chronic high blood sugar

Over time, complications can develop due to chronically high blood sugar levels. These include:


If you’re taking medications that increase insulin levels in your body, you may be at risk for an acute complication called hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. With hypoglycemia, you may experience:

  • fainting
  • rapid heartbeat
  • sweating
  • dizziness and trembling
  • confusion
  • anxiety
  • drowsiness
  • loss of consciousness

Treating hypoglycemia quickly is important. Talk with your doctor to learn what to do if you are at risk for hypoglycemia.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of diabetes, you should make an appointment with a doctor. When you make the appointment, ask your doctor if there’s anything you need to do to prepare for the appointment.

For example, the doctor may want to perform a fasting blood sugar test, which will require you to not eat anything 8 hours before your appointment.

You should also write down any symptoms you’re experiencing or recent life changes that you’ve gone through. Your doctor can use this information to help make a diagnosis, if needed.

Your doctor may use one or more tests to screen for diabetes. The glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test is most common.

This is a blood test that indicates your average blood sugar level during the previous 2 to 3 months. It measures the amount of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin. The higher your blood sugar levels are, the more hemoglobin is attached to sugar.

If you receive an A1C level of 6.5 percent or higher on two separate tests, your doctor will diagnose diabetes. Your doctor will diagnose prediabetes if your A1C level is between 5.7 and 6.4. Anything below an A1C level of 5.7 is considered to be typical.

If these results aren’t consistent, your doctor will move on to other testing options. Conditions that can lead to inaccurate results include:

Other testing options include:

  • Random blood sugar test. Your doctor will take your blood sample at a random time. If your blood sugar levels are 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher, you likely have diabetes.
  • Fasting blood sugar test. Your doctor will take your blood sample after a period of fasting. If your blood sugar levels are 126 mg/dL or higher, you will receive a diagnosis of diabetes.

You should have these readings confirmed on a separate day. Your doctor may also recommend an oral glucose tolerance test.

During an oral glucose tolerance test, your doctor will first ask you to perform a fasting blood sugar test. Then they will give you a sugary liquid to drink and will measure your blood sugar levels periodically over the next 2 hours. You will receive a diagnosis of diabetes if this is more than 200 mg/dL.

Speak with your doctor about which screening method is right for you and what you can do to prepare.

Sometimes, symptoms of diabetes may not be obvious, especially in the early stages. Knowing what the signs are can prompt you to talk with a doctor, especially if the symptoms don’t resolve or if they get worse.

It’s a good idea to get your symptoms evaluated as soon as possible so that you can start treatment, if necessary. This will help reduce the possible damage to your body, and you’ll feel better.

If you receive a diabetes diagnosis, your doctor will likely connect you with a diabetes educator and dietitian. They can work with you to develop a diabetes management plan suited to your individual needs.

Your management plan will include a combination of nutritional guidelines, an exercise regimen, and medications designed to regulate your blood sugar levels. Your doctor may also suggest regular blood sugar testing.

It may take some trial and error to settle on a treatment plan that works the best for you.