Early Warning Signs of Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association estimates that more than 25 million Americans today are living with this chronic condition, which causes elevated blood sugar levels in the body that leads to a number of serious health problems.

Types of Diabetes

There are several different forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes comes on suddenly, often presenting in childhood or adolescence. Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common type, comes on more gradually. Until recently, type 2 mainly affected people over 40 years of age. However, this has been changing in recent years as obesity rates have risen in children and adolescents, putting them at risk, too.

Recognizing the Signs

Both forms of diabetes cause similar symptoms, but in type 2 diabetes, they come on more slowly and often mimic other health conditions, explains Marianne Chojnicki, MHA, RN, CDE, a Certified Diabetes Educator at the Joslin Diabetes Center. "That's why people often refer to type 2 diabetes as 'the great imitator,'" she says. Nonetheless, getting a proper diagnosis is essential, so you can make healthy lifestyle modifications and get on the right treatment regime as soon as possible.

Typical Diabetes Symptoms

Some typical symptoms of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Weight loss as the condition worsens

Chojnicki points out people with type 2 diabetes may live with the condition months or even years without knowing it. It often isn't until the weight loss becomes noticeable that they figure out something is wrong.

Screening Guidelines

In an effort to find diabetes before it even gets to this advanced state, the American Diabetes Association recommends that people over the age of 45 undergo diabetes screening every three years. To check for diabetes, your doctor may want to measure your fasting blood sugar or may ask you to drink a sugary substance to see how your body handles the glucose.

More frequent screenings may be warranted if you have some of the following risk factors:

  • Being overweight
  • Belonging to a high-risk ethnic group
  • Having gestational diabetes (a temporary form of diabetes that affects women during pregnancy)
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Having blood pressure higher than 140/90
  • Having elevated trigylcerides (over 250)
  • Having components of metabolic syndrome (a group of risk factors)
  • Having diabetes in your immediate family
  • Having previous lab results of elevated blood sugar
  • Being pre-diabetic

Lowering Your Risk

While you can't change your age, ethnic background, or family history, Chojnicki points out that you can increase your exercise level, watch your weight, and make more nutritious food choices. All of these steps can help improve your health and reduce your risk for diabetes. If you already have diabetes, such healthful choices are especially essential for your well-being. It can also be helpful to work with a diabetes educator to determine what else you can do to manage your condition over the long term.

For more information about diabetes, visit the American Diabetic Association's website or Joslin's website.

Marianne Chojnicki reviewed this article.




Joslin Center. "Common Questions About Type 2 Diabetes." Updated Aug. 11, 2013.

Marianne Chojnicki, MHA, RN, CDE, Certified Diabetes Educator at the Joslin Diabetes Center. Phone interview Aug. 8 2013.