Early Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 05, 2024
5 min read

Diabetes happens when your blood sugar (blood glucose), which is your body's primary energy source, is too high. There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes means your body doesn't make enough insulin. Doctors usually diagnose the condition in kids and young adults, but you can get it at any age. You'll need daily insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, and it means your body doesn't use insulin the right way. Your chances of getting the disease go up if you are overweight or obese or if other people in your family have diabetes.

Both types of diabetes have some of the same telltale warning signs.

Increased hunger

Your body converts the food you eat into glucose, which your cells use for energy. But your cells need insulin to take in glucose. If your body doesn't make enough or any insulin, or if your cells resist the insulin your body makes, the glucose can't get into them and you have no energy. This can make you hungrier than usual.

Fatigue and tiredness

A lack of insulin and glucose can also make you more tired than usual.

Peeing more often

The average person usually has to pee about four to seven times in 24 hours, but people with diabetes may go a lot more. Why? Normally, your body reabsorbs glucose as it passes through your kidneys. But when diabetes pushes your blood sugar up, your kidneys may not be able to bring it all back in. This causes the body to make more urine, and that takes fluids. The result: You'll have to go more often. You might pee out more, too.

Frequent thirst

Because you're peeing so much, you can get very thirsty.

Dry mouth

Because your body is using fluids to make pee, there's less moisture for other things. You could get dehydrated, and your mouth may feel dry.

Itchy and dry skin

Your skin could also feel dry, which may start to itch as well.

Blurred vision

Changing fluid levels in your body could cause the lenses in your eyes to swell. They would then change shape and be unable to focus.

Unintentional weight loss

If your body can't get energy from your food, it will start burning muscle and fat for energy instead. You may lose weight even though you haven't changed how you eat.

Can diabetes cause headaches?

Headache may be a symptom of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. It happens when your sugar or glucose level drops very low.

How can you tell if you have diabetes? Most early symptoms are due to higher-than-normal glucose levels in your blood. While symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the same, there's a difference in how they appear.

In type 1 diabetes, symptoms show up quickly, in just a few days or weeks, especially in children. The four most common symptoms are:

  • Peeing more often
  • Constant thirst
  • Tiredness and a lack of energy
  • Unintended weight loss

Type 2 diabetes symptoms may be mild and develop more slowly, especially early on in the disease. It's possible to go for years without realizing you have the condition.

There's no major difference in early diabetes signs between men and women, but there may be a few contrasts. Women with the condition may have vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections more often, while men with untreated diabetes tend to lose muscle mass.

Early symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children

Type 1 diabetes can happen at any age but tends to crop up in children aged 5 to 6 and 11 to 13. Researchers think this is due to hormones at these ages. Symptoms include:

  • Extreme hunger or thirst
  • Peeing more often, including wetting the bed
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Blurred vision
  • Crankiness or behavior changes
  • Vaginal yeast infection in prepubescent girls
  • Diaper rash in babies

Early symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children

Adults are more likely to get type 2 diabetes, but the disease is happening more often in kids because of obesity. Your child may not show any symptoms of the disease, but here are some to look out for:

  • Extreme hunger or thirst
  • Peeing more often
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Blurred vision
  • Skin darkening, especially around the neck, groin, and armpits
  • Unintended weight loss (this happens more often in type 1 diabetes)
  • Repeated infections

High blood sugar during pregnancy usually has no symptoms. You might feel a little thirstier than normal, have to pee more often, have a dry mouth, or feel tired.

If you have an average chance of getting gestational diabetes, your doctor will likely screen you for the condition between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. But your doctor may test you early in your pregnancy, possibly at your first prenatal visit, if:

  • You're more likely to get gestational diabetes because you're overweight.
  • Gestational diabetes runs in your family.
  • You've had it during a previous pregnancy.

The screening involves drinking a sugary solution and having your blood sugar tested an hour later. If your blood sugar is high, you'll need a follow-up test, where you'll drink a stronger solution and have your blood sugar tested every hour for 3 hours.

Signs of type 2 diabetes complications may include:

Learn about what you can do to lower your risk of diabetes complications.

If you're older than 45 or have other risks for diabetes, it's important to get tested. When you spot the condition early, you can avoid nerve damage, heart trouble, and other complications.

As a general rule, call your doctor if you:

  • Feel sick to your stomach, weak, and very thirsty
  • Are peeing a lot
  • Have a bad belly ache
  • Are breathing more deeply and faster than normal
  • Have sweet breath that smells like nail polish remover (a sign of very high ketones)

Diabetes often starts with mild symptoms such as feeling very hungry and tired, needing to pee a lot, being very thirsty, having a dry mouth, itchy skin, and blurry vision. Type 1 diabetes symptoms appear quickly and are more severe, while type 2 symptoms develop slowly. It's important to see a doctor if you have symptoms or have a higher chance of getting diabetes to avoid serious health problems.