Early Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

Diabetes often goes unnoticed, but catching early diabetic symptoms can reduce the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes. Understand and identify early signs and symptoms to help prevent such health concerns.

Early Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

Catching early symptoms of diabetes, often known as prediabetes, can truly be beneficial in reducing the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes. And if detected before a true diabetes diagnosis, the condition may be reversed altogether by making healthy lifestyle changes.

Unfortunately, diabetes has a track record of going unnoticed, as the development of diabetes is often gradual. In fact, about one in every four individuals are living with diabetes and do not even realize it!

Although diabetes may go unnoticed until a true diagnosis, identifying early signs and symptoms can prevent complications associated with diabetes.

High Blood Sugar Symptoms

High blood sugar is often the result of insulin resistance, a condition in which cells do not respond well to insulin. Insulin is a fundamental hormone required for glucose utilization, as it assists in glucose entry into the cells following carbohydrate intake.

Insulin can be thought of as a key. When glucose from carb sources is ingested and absorbed, insulin is released. Its release then helps unlock the cells' "door" for glucose to enter. So when resistant to insulin, the cells do no take up glucose the blood, thus leading to high blood sugar levels.

Individuals with prediabetes, also known as borderline diabetes, already have some degree of insulin resistance. If left untreated, blood sugars start to elevate overtime and raises the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Testing for high blood sugar is the prime diagnostic criteria for diagnosing diabetes. And if increased risk of diabetes, monitoring blood sugars may be an early way to reduce exacerbated or uncontrolled diabetes.

Blood tests differentiate between normal, prediabetes, and diabetes blood glucose levels. Tests are marked in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) unless noted otherwise.

1. Fasting Plasma Glucose Test: Fasting plasma glucose involves taking a blood sample then measuring the free glucose in that sample. Individuals take this test in a fasted state, or absent of food intake for eight hours. However, it is generally performed after an overnight fast.

• Normal: Less than 100, or encouraged to be within 70 and 100
• Prediabetes: 100 to 125
• Diabetes: Greater than 126

2. Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT): The OGTT is used to determine how much sugar the body is able to process. This test is administered during a fasted state. The individual then consumes a sugary, glucose beverage then given a blood test two hours after.

• Normal: Less than 140
• Prediabetes: 140 to 199
• Diabetes: Greater than 200

3. Hemoglobin A1C: Hemoglobin A1C is also known as glycated hemoglobin, average blood sugar, and HbA1C. It is a blood test that measures average blood sugar up to three months. The test can also indicate how well blood sugars were controlled over time.

• Normal: 5.6% or less
• Prediabetes: 5.7 to 6.4%
• Diabetes: 6.5% or greater on two separate occasions

Though measuring blood sugar is definitive, one might notice other early signs of diabetes. If experiencing any of the symptoms described, contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible.


If sleeping the recommended seven to nine hours nightly and still feeling exhausted, diabetes may be the underlying culprit. Without proper use of insulin, the cells are not able to uptake glucose from food to use as energy. Losing this energy can lead to fatigue and extreme tiredness.

Sudden or Unexplained Weight Loss

Though being overweight or obese is a risk factor for developing diabetes, weight loss may be an early sign of diabetes. The inability for cells to take up glucose can create a calorie deficit. Not having glucose to use can also force the body to use burn fat and muscle for energy.

Increased Thirst or Urination

Since glucose remains in the blood and contributes to high blood sugar, the body increases urine production. In turn, frequent urination ultimately leads to fluid loss and dehydration. This phenomenon creates a cycle of frequent urination and increased thirst.


Headaches are a common early symptom of both hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). If sugars are left uncontrollably low or high, the pain severity may worsen. Hyperglycemic headaches come on more gradually while hypoglycemic headaches are more abrupt and needs attention.

Blurred Vision

Blurred vision may seem warranted for a trip to the optometrist. However, it may also justify an appointment with a physician instead. Blurred vision often represents a serious, underlying condition and should be approached at a medical standpoint to reduce further complications.

Darkened Skin

Acanthosis nigricans may be an early symptoms of diabetes and associated with insulin resistance. It is a skin condition characterized by dark skin patches with a thick, velvety texture. The patches are mostly in body folds and creases such as the neck and armpits.

However, since not all experience warning signs, knowing the risk factors for diabetes can be helpful. Prediabetes and diabetes risk factors include:

• Overweight and Obesity: Carrying extra weight is a serious risk factor for developing diabetes. A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight while a BMI over 30 is classified as obese. However, using BMI is controversial, as a number of factors are not taken into consideration (age, gender, muscle mass, etc.). Using waist circumference (WC) can further guide an unhealthy weight status. A WC over 40 inches in males and over 35 inches in females increases diabetes risk.

• Family History: Having a family history or a genetic predisposition increases the risk of being overweight along with developing diabetes.

• Age: Individuals aged 45 years or older are at an increased risk for diabetes development.

• Race: Some races and ethnicities increases diabetes risk and include African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander.

• Certain Health Conditions: There are many health conditions that can increase the risk of diabetes, including polycystic ovary syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea. Women with gestational diabetes, or who birth a baby over nine pounds increase their risk of a future diabetes diagnosis. High blood pressure and high lipids levels are also associated to prediabetes and diabetes.

Most importantly, continue ongoing monitoring with a primary care provider. Physicians, endocrinologists and nutrition professionals can offer safe and effective guidance to reduce diabetes risk and complications.

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