Early Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on April 05, 2024
6 min read

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 insulin, glucose builds up in your blood. You’ve probably heard this called high blood sugar.

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

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 harder to remove it. This pulls fluids from your tissues, making 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 hard to remove extra sugar from 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 tired. Dehydration 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 get 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, and 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.

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 180-200 mg/dL can give you heart, nerve, kidney, and vision problems. Over the long term, it can also 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.

Heart and blood vessel diseases. People with diabetes are more likely to have conditions such as 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.

Eye damage. Diabetes can cause:

  • Glaucoma, a buildup of pressure in your eyes
  • Cataract (cloudiness of your lens)
  • Retinopathy, which is damage to the blood vessels in your eyes

Kidney disease. Your 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 problems. Diabetes 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. This involves changes to small blood vessels that result in 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 annulare. You might get red, brown, or skin-colored rings or arc-shaped raised areas on your fingers, ears, or trunk.

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.

Also, children face a higher risk of type 2 diabetes if they don’t get enough exercise or 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.

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.

People aged 65 and older are more likely to face diabetes complications, especially heart attacks, eye problems, loss of a leg (amputation), and kidney disease.

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.

There are many early signs of type 2 diabetes, including being more thirsty than normal, peeing more often, fatigue, and headaches. If you're experiencing new symptoms, talk with your health care provider, even if they seem minor. Many people with the condition don't know they have it. Most people can control their type 2 diabetes symptoms with the right lifestyle changes and medications.

How does type 2 diabetes affect your life?

If you're diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, you'll need to make certain lifestyle changes to control your symptoms. Your doctor can help you figure out the best diet and exercise routines for you. You may need to begin monitoring your glucose (blood sugar) with an at-home glucose meter each day, especially if you're taking insulin. If you have side effects from any new drugs you take to control your diabetes, talk with your health care provider about your concerns regarding medications.

What three drinks should diabetics avoid?

Soda, sweet tea, and sports drinks contain lots of added sugar that can spike your glucose levels. Instead, consider opting for water to keep your blood sugar in check.