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Do I Have Diabetes? Know the Warning Signs

Overview

Key points

  1. Some of the early warning signs for diabetes are the same whether you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.
  2. Recognizing the warning signs can help you get diagnosed and begin treatment.
  3. Type 2 diabetes develops slowly, and you may not notice any warning signs.

Diabetes is a serious, yet common medical condition. If you have diabetes, you need to manage your blood sugars and regularly monitor them to be sure they are within their target range.

There are a few types of diabetes, though the main two types are type 1 and type 2 diabetes. They differ due to the cause. You may have sudden symptoms of diabetes, or a diagnosis may surprise you because the symptoms have been gradual over many months or years.

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Warning signs

Warning signs of diabetes

Diabetes symptoms may occur over time or they may appear quickly. The various types of diabetes may have similar or different warning signs. Some general warning signs of diabetes are:

  • extreme thirst
  • dry mouth
  • frequent urination
  • hunger
  • fatigue
  • irritable behavior
  • blurred vision
  • wounds that don’t heal quickly
  • skin that itches or is dry
  • yeast infections

Other warning signs of type 1

Type 1 diabetes is generally diagnosed in children and young adults, though it can occur at any age. A child may experience these additional symptoms:

  • sudden, unintentional weight loss
  • wetting the bed after a history of being dry at night
  • a yeast infection in a prepubescent girl
  • flu-like symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, breath that smells like fruit, problems breathing, and loss of consciousness

Flu-like symptoms  are caused when undiagnosed diabetes causes ketones to build up in the bloodstream. This condition is called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). DKA is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical treatment.

Learn more: Diabetic ketoacidosis »

Other warning signs of type 2

You may not notice sudden symptoms of type 2 diabetes, but the warning signs listed above may alert you to an underlying condition. You may be diagnosed with diabetes because you go to the doctor for:

  • persistent infections or a slow-healing wound
  • complications that are associated with prolonged high blood sugar levels, such as numbness or tingling in your feet
  • heart problems

You may never experience obvious warning signs at all. Diabetes can develop over the course of many years and the warning signs may be subtle.

Risk factors

Who is at risk for diabetes?

Diabetes can occur at any time. There are certain risk factors for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. This is not an exhaustive list, and even adults can end up with type 1 diabetes, though it is infrequent.

Type Who is at risk
type 1 • children
• young adults
• those with an immediate relative with type 1 diabetes
type 2 • those over age 45
• those who are overweight
• those who are inactive
• those who smoke
• those who have a family history of diabetes
• those who have high blood pressure
• those who have abnormal triglyceride or HDL cholesterol levels
• those of certain ethnicities
• those with a history of insulin resistance
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Diagnosis

Diagnosis

You may experience one or more of the warning signs associated with diabetes. If you do, contact your doctor for an appointment.

You may also discover a diabetes diagnosis after visiting the doctor for another condition or for routine blood work.

If you suspect you may have diabetes and make an appointment with your doctor, they will want to know:

  • your symptoms
  • family history
  • medications
  • allergies

You should also have a list of questions to ask your doctor regarding your warning signs or the condition itself.

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and may decide to run some tests.

There are several tests to diagnose diabetes:

  • A1C: This shows what your blood glucose level has averaged for the last 2 or 3 months. This does not require you to fast or drink anything.
  • Fasting plasma glucose (FPG): You will need to fast for at least 8 hours before this test.
  • Oral glucose tolerance (OGTT): This test takes 2 hours. Your blood glucose levels are tested initially and then 2 hours after consuming a specific sweet drink.
  • Random plasma glucose test: You can have this test any time and do not need to be fasting.

Treatment

Treatment

Diabetes can be treated in several ways. Diet, physical activity, and careful monitoring are important if you have diabetes, no matter which type of diabetes you have. If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need to take insulin for the rest of your life. That is because your body doesn’t produce insulin. If you have type 2 diabetes, if may be possible to control your condition with lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. You may also need to take oral or injectable medications, including insulin, to manage your blood sugar levels.

If you have diabetes, you will need to carefully track you diet to prevent blood sugar levels from getting too high. This generally means watching carbohydrate intake as well as limiting over-processed, low-fiber foods.

Your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan to help you control your blood sugar levels.  

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Outlook

Outlook

Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have diabetes. Getting on top of your condition and managing it effectively is key to controlling your symptoms and preventing more serious health problems.

If you have type 1 diabetes you’ll need to manage your glucose levels by matching your insulin to your diet and activity. If you have type 2 diabetes, you may manage your blood sugars with diet and activity alone, or add medications as needed.

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Prevention

Prevention

Diabetes may not be prevented in all cases. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented. You may be able to reduce your chances for developing type 2 diabetes by managing your diet and staying active. However, genetics and other risk factors may increase your risk despite your best effort.

Learn more: 10 diabetes diet myths »

Even if you have a diagnosis of diabetes, you can live a full life. Diabetes requires careful planning and management, but it should not prevent you from engaging in everyday activities.

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