Early Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on December 07, 2021

Early Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which your body doesn’t make enough of a hormone called insulin or doesn’t use insulin the way it should. Insulin helps carry glucose (also called sugar) to your cells. So when there’s a problem with the insulin, glucose builds up in your blood. You’ve probably heard this called high blood sugar.

About 90% of people who have diabetes have type 2. The other two main ones are type 1, in which your body stops making insulin, and gestational, which happens in pregnant women.

You can usually control type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes. Some people also need medication.

You might not know that you have type 2 diabetes until it affects your health. About 1 in 4 people with the condition don’t know that they have it.

Symptoms can come on slowly. They may include:

  • More thirst. When sugar builds up in your blood, your kidneys work overtime to get rid of it. This pulls fluids from your tissues and makes you dehydrated, so you feel thirsty.
  • More hunger. Because diabetes can stop glucose from getting to your cells, you feel hungry, even after you’ve eaten.
  • Peeing often. You’ll pee more because your kidneys are working to get rid of extra sugar in your system.
  • Dry mouth. Dehydration and peeing a lot can drain moisture from your mouth as well.
  • Weight loss without trying. When you lose sugar from peeing a lot, you lose calories, too. You might lose weight even though you’re eating as usual.
  • Fatigue. When your body can’t use energy from food, you could feel weak and tiredDehydration can make you feel this way, too.
  • Blurry vision. High blood sugar can make you have trouble focusing.
  • Headaches. High blood sugar levels can cause your head to hurt.
  • Loss of consciousness. After you exercise, skip a meal, or take too much medication, your blood sugar could go too low, and you could pass out.
  • Infections or sores that don’t heal. High blood sugar can slow blood flow and make it harder for your body to heal.
  • Tingling hands and feet. Type 2 diabetes can affect nerves in your hands and feet.
  • Red, swollen, tender gums. You might be more likely to get infections in your gums and the bones that hold your teeth in place. Your gums may get infected or pull away from your teeth. Your teeth might become loose.

Complications of Type 2 Diabetes

It’s important to get your blood sugar under control to avoid these serious conditions:

  • Hypoglycemia. If your blood sugar falls below 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), it can lead to accidents, coma, and death.
  • Hyperglycemia. Blood sugar that goes above 180 to 200 mg/dL can give you heart, nerve, kidney, and vision problems. Over the long term, it also can cause coma and death.

Over time, people with type 2 diabetes may have other health problems:

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis. When you don’t have enough insulin in your system, your blood sugar rises, and your body breaks down fat for energy. Toxic acids called ketones build up and spill into your urine. It can cause coma and death if you don’t treat it.
  • Heartand blood vessel diseases. People with diabetes are more likely to have conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which play a role in heart disease. Also, high blood sugar can damage your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart.
  • High blood pressure. Diabetes doubles your risk of high blood pressure, which makes you more likely to have heart disease or stroke.
  • Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy). This can cause tingling and numbness, most often in your feet and legs. But it can also affect your digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels, and heart.
  • Eyedamage. Diabetes can cause:
    • Glaucoma, a buildup of pressure in your eyes
    • Cataracts, a cloudiness of your lens
    • Retinopathy, which is damage to the blood vessels in your eyes
  • Kidney diseaseYour kidneys may have to work harder to filter out the extra sugar, along with all the other waste products in your blood.
  • Hearing problems. Doctors aren’t sure why this happens, but they think high blood sugar levels damage the small blood vessels in your ears.
  • Skin problemsDiabetes can cause:
    • Infections. You’re more likely to get bacterial and fungal infections.
    • Itching. Causes include infections, dry skin, and poor circulation. You might notice it on your lower legs.
    • Acanthosis nigricans. These velvety darker areas can appear on your neck, armpits, groin, hands, elbows, and knees.
    • Diabetic dermopathy. Changes to small blood vessels that look like red or brown scaly patches. They often show up on your feet and the fronts of your legs.
    • Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum. This rare condition also affects your blood vessels. It starts as a dull, red, raised area, but winds up as a shiny scar with a violet border. Your skin could itch or crack open. Women are more likely to get this than men.
    • Allergic reactions. You could get these in response to insulin or another diabetes medication.
    • Diabetic blisters(bullosis diabeticorum). These sores look like burn blisters and can show up on the backs of your fingers, hands, toes, feet, and sometimes legs or forearms.
    • Disseminated granuloma annulareYou might get red, brown, or skin-colored rings or arc-shaped raised areas on your fingers, ears, or trunk.

Type 2 Diabetes in Children

Type 2 was once called adult-onset diabetes because it was rare in children and teens. But it has become more common since the mid-1990s, in large part because more young people are overweight or obese, a risk factor for the disease.

Children are also at higher risk of type 2 diabetes if they don’t get enough exercise or if they have a close relative with the condition. African American, Hispanic, Native American, Alaska Native, Asian American, and Pacific Islander children are more likely to get it.

Type 2 Diabetes in Older Adults

Your risk of type 2 diabetes goes up as you age because your body can become resistant to insulin and your pancreas might not work as well as it used to.

Diabetes is more likely to cause complications in people 65 and older, especially heart attacks, eye problems, loss of a leg (amputation), and kidney disease.

When to Call Your Doctor

Let them know if you have any of the common symptoms of type 2 diabetes or if you have questions about type 2 diabetes. It's important to get tested and start treatment early to prevent serious complications.

Show Sources


American Diabetes Association: "Diabetes Symptoms," “Eye Complications,” “Diabetes and Hearing Loss,” “Kidney Disease (Nephropathy),” “Skin Complications.”

American College of Endocrinology: "Position statement on inpatient diabetes and metabolic control."

Physicians Desk Reference (PDR Health): ''Diabetes - Type 2 Symptoms.''

Mayo Clinic: “Diabetes symptoms: When diabetes symptoms are a concern,” “Diabetic hypoglycemia,” “Diabetic neuropathy,” “Hyperglycemia in diabetes,” “Type 2 diabetes.”

Annals of Medical and Health Sciences Research: “Xerostomia Due to Systemic Disease: A Review of 20 Conditions and Mechanisms.”

Evidence-Based Diabetes Management: “The Persistent Complication of Hypoglycemia in Diabetics.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke,” “Type 2 Diabetes.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Diabetes and High Blood Pressure.”

CDC: “Diabetes.”

World Journal of Diabetes: “Type 2 diabetes mellitus in children and adolescents.”

Texas Department of State Health Services: “Diabetes in Children.”

Diabetes Care: “Diabetes in Older Adults.”

UpToDate: “Treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus in the older patient.”

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