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10 Silent Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes You Might Be Missing

New studies show a shocking 25 percent of people with type 2 diabetes don't even know it. If you experience some of these subtle diabetes symptoms and signs, talk to your doctor about getting tested.

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Type 2 diabetes has plenty of early signs, but they’re subtle enough that you might not notice

“It’s not like you wake up one day and all of a sudden you’re thirsty, hungry, and [going to the bathroom] all the time,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a certified diabetes educator in Chicago, Illinois and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It picks up gradually.” Indeed, “most people are unaware that they have [type 2] diabetes in its early or even middle phases,” says Aaron Cypess, MD, PhD, investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. And just because you’re unaware doesn’t mean you’re immune to the problems associated with the disease. The longer you go without managing your condition, the greater your risk for diabetes-related complications including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, amputation, vision loss, and nerve damage. “We recommend that people with risk factors for diabetes, such as a family history or being overweight, get evaluated on a regular basis,” Dr. Cypess says. If you’ve been feeling off, talk to your doctor about getting a simple blood test that can diagnose the disease. And be on the lookout for these symptoms.

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You’re taking more bathroom breaks

With type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, your body becomes less efficient at breaking food down into glucose (also known as sugar), your body’s main source of energy. As a result, you have more sugar sitting in your bloodstream, says Dobbins. “Your body gets rid of it by flushing it out in the urine.” Going to the bathroom a lot is an easy-to-miss symptom. After all, says Dr. Cypess, most people aren’t aware of how often they use the bathroom. “When we ask about it, we often hear, ‘Oh yeah, I guess I’m going more often than I used to,’ ” he says. Here’s a red flag: the need to urinate keeps you up at night. Once might be normal, but if it’s affecting your ability to sleep, that could be a diabetes symptom to pay attention to. Make sure you know these diabetes myths that could sabotage your health.

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You’re thirstier than usual

Urinating a lot will also make you feel parched. Another one of the diabetes symptoms Dobbins sees with patients is that they use drinks like juices, soda, or chocolate milk to quench their thirst. These sugary beverages then pack the bloodstream with excess sugar, which can only worsen the problem, creating a vicious cycle. To help stabilize your blood glucose levels, try these 15 tricks diabetes doctors use to keep their own blood sugar levels under control.

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You’ve lost a little weight

It doesn’t make sense: Being overweight is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and yet shedding pounds is a sneaky symptom of the disease. What’s that about? “Weight loss comes from two things,” explains Dr. Cypess. “One, from the water that you lose [from urinating]. Two, you lose some calories in the urine and you don’t absorb all the calories from the sugar in your blood.”

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You feel shaky and hungry

Throughout the day, depending on a number of factors, blood glucose levels go up and down, which is normal. If they vary within a certain range, you probably won’t be able to tell. But if they dip below the healthy range, you’ll feel unsteady and immediately need to reach for carbs to bring your blood glucose levels back to your target range. Other symptoms of low blood glucose include sweating, chills, lightheadedness, and confusion, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). These are the best foods for people with diabetes.

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You’re tired all the time

It’s normal to be exhausted every now and then. But ongoing fatigue is an important symptom to pay attention to; it might mean the food you’re eating for energy isn’t being broken down and used by cells as it’s supposed to. “If you’re not getting the fuel your body needs, you’re going to be tired and sluggish,” says Dobbins.

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You’re moody and grumpy

When your blood sugar is out of whack, you just don’t feel well and might become more short-tempered. In fact, high blood sugar can mimic depression-like symptoms.

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Your vision seems blurry

When blurry vision occurs at the time of diagnosis, it’s not diabetic retinopathy, which is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye. Instead, says Dr. Cypess, it’s more often “a sign that the lenses are getting fluid in them or out of them because the concentration of glucose in them is different from the rest of the body. The blurry vision can be a good sign since it can happen after starting treatment when the blood sugars start going down to safer ranges.  The blurry vision resolves once the lenses in the eyes have gotten used to the new, lower blood sugars. In about six to eight weeks after your blood sugars are stabilized, you’re not going to feel it anymore; the eye will adjust.” Here are more surprising facts you never knew about type 2 diabetes.

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Your cuts and scrapes heal more slowly

The immune system and the processes that help the body heal don’t work so well when your sugar levels are high, explains Dr. Cypess. “The immune system has many components, and nearly all of them don’t work as well in the setting of hyperglycemia [high blood glucose],” he says. “For example, there is reduced blood flow, changes in [the acidity of blood] that hurt the immune cells, and nerve damage leading to injuries and infections.”

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Your feet tingle

Elevated blood sugar levels can cause complications well before you realize you have diabetes. One of these is mild nerve damage (neuropathy), which can cause numbness in your feet. Although different types of diabetic neuropathy can affect people who have diabetes, research suggests that up to one-half of people with diabetes have peripheral neuropathy, nerve damage that typically affects the feet and legs and sometimes affects the hands and arms, according to the ADA.

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You’re more prone to urinary tract and yeast infections

Higher levels of sugar in the urine and the vagina can become a breeding ground for the bacteria and yeast that cause these infections. A study published in 2015 in The Journal of Diabetes Complications found that people with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for urinary tract infections, as compared to those who don’t have diabetes. Recurrent infections are particularly worrisome. Be on the lookout for these other silent diabetes complications you should know about.

Sources
  • Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a certified diabetes educator and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators, Chicago, IL.
  • Aaron Cypess, MD, PhD, investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
  • Diabetes Care, "Diabetic Neuropathy: A Position Statement by the American Diabetes Association."
  • The Journal of Diabetes Complications, "Epidemiology of Urinary Tract Infections in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Patients: An Analysis Based on a Large Sample of 456,586 German T2DM Patients."
  • American Diabetes Association, "Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose),"
Medically reviewed by Susan E. Spratt, MD, on August 08, 2019