If you don’t know the answer to this question but feel you have cause to wonder, that’s probably reason enough to see a doctor. In its early stages, when it’s easiest to control, diabetes can be sneaky and silent, slowly causing damage throughout your body without obvious symptoms. But if you’re alert to subtle signs, you can catch the disease at the outset and get a jump on beating it back.
It’s human nature not to look for problems if they haven’t already found you — which explains why between one third and one half of people with diabetes don’t know they have it.
According to the American College of Endocrinology, half of all people who finally go to their doctor to be tested have already developed some degree of complications.
How can you recognize when diabetes is at your door? There are three fundamental ways.
Figure your risk factors. The first thing to look at is whether any element of your background makes you more likely than the general population to develop diabetes. Among the most important factors to evaluate are:
Family history. If anyone in your immediate family — a parent, sibling, or grandparent — has had diabetes, you have a higher chance of developing the disease yourself. The extent of the risk depends on the type of diabetes and how closely related you are to the person who has it (the risk is highest among identical twins).
Ethnic group. The most common type of diabetes (called type 2) is most prevalent in African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. The other major form (type 1) is most prevalent in Caucasians, especially those with backgrounds in northern European regions, such as Scandinavia.
Weight. Being overweight significantly raises your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. That makes it one of the most important risk factors because it’s one you can control.
Age. Type 1 usually occurs in children or teens (it’s rarely diagnosed after age 30). Type 2 generally develops after age 40, although it’s becoming more common in younger people.
Keep a sharp eye for symptoms. While the signs of diabetes can be subtle at first, they’re not impossible to pick up on. The longer diabetes progresses, the more likely symptoms are to become obvious. The hallmarks of uncontrolled diabetes are:
- Excessive thirst
- Increased appetite
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Frequent infections
- Tingling in your hands and feet
- Sexual dysfunction
Get tested. Tests for diabetes are easy; they involve nothing more painful than a finger prick to draw a drop of your blood (although some tests require that you prepare by fasting ahead of time). It’s best to see a doctor for a full evaluation if you want to nail down your diagnosis: Blood screenings at health fairs or malls provide less accurate results than those your doctor can give you. If your results fall short of a diagnosis but your background suggests you’re at risk, schedule a return visit at least every year to make sure nothing’s changed.