Type 2 diabetes causes a person’s blood sugar levels to become too high. Early signs include increased thirst, frequent urination, and tiredness.

Type 2 diabetes is a common condition. More than 37 million people in the United States have diabetes, with 90–95% having type 2 diabetes.

The onset of type 2 diabetes can be gradual, and symptoms can be mild during the early stages. As a result, many people may not realize that they have this condition.

In this article, we look at the early signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes and the importance of early diagnosis. We also discuss the risk factors for developing this condition.

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The early signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes can include:

1. Frequent urination

When blood sugar levels are high, the kidneys try to remove the excess sugar by filtering it out of the blood. This can lead to a person needing to urinate more frequently, particularly at night.

2. Increased thirst

The frequent urination necessary to remove excess sugar from the blood can result in the body losing additional water. Over time, this can cause dehydration and make a person feel more thirsty than usual.

3. Frequent hunger

People with diabetes often do not get enough energy from their food.

The digestive system breaks food down into a simple sugar called glucose, which the body uses as fuel. In people with diabetes, not enough of this glucose moves from the bloodstream into the body’s cells.

As a result, people with type 2 diabetes often feel constantly hungry, regardless of how recently they have eaten.

4. Fatigue

Type 2 diabetes can impact a person’s energy levels and cause them to feel fatigued.

Diabetes fatigue occurs due to insufficient sugar moving from the bloodstream into the body’s cells.

5. Blurry vision

An excess of sugar in the blood can damage the tiny blood vessels in the eyes, which can cause blurry vision. This can occur in one or both eyes.

High blood sugar levels can also lead to swelling of the eye lens. This can cause blurred vision but will improve when blood sugar levels reduce.

If a person with diabetes goes without treatment, the damage to these blood vessels can become more severe, and permanent vision loss may eventually occur.

6. Slow healing of cuts and wounds

High sugar levels in the blood can damage the body’s nerves and blood vessels, which can impair blood circulation. As a result, even small cuts and wounds may take weeks or months to heal. Slow wound healing also increases the risk of infection.

7. Tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands or feet

High blood sugar levels can affect blood circulation and damage the nerves. In people with type 2 diabetes, this can lead to pain or a sensation of tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.

This condition is known as neuropathy. It can worsen over time and lead to more serious complications if a person does not get treatment for their diabetes.

8. Patches of darker skin

Patches of darker skin forming on creases of the neck, armpit, or groin can also result from diabetes. These patches may feel soft and velvety.

This skin condition is known as acanthosis nigricans.

9. Itching and yeast infections

Excess sugar in the blood and urine provides food for yeast, which can lead to infection. Yeast infections tend to occur on warm, moist areas of the skin, such as the mouth, genital areas, and armpits.

The affected areas are usually itchy, but a person may also experience burning, skin discoloration, and soreness.

To learn more about type 2 and other forms of diabetes, visit our diabetes hub.

Recognizing the early signs of type 2 diabetes can allow a person to get a diagnosis and treatment sooner.

Getting appropriate treatment, making lifestyle changes, and controlling blood sugar levels can greatly improve a person’s health and quality of life and reduce the risk of complications.

Without treatment, persistently high blood sugar levels can lead to severe and sometimes life threatening complications, including:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • nerve damage, or neuropathy
  • foot problems
  • kidney disease, which can result in a person needing dialysis
  • eye disease or loss of vision
  • sexual problems

Keeping blood sugar levels under control is crucial for preventing some of these complications. The longer blood sugar levels remain uncontrolled, the higher the risk of other health problems.

Untreated diabetes can also lead to hyperosmolar hyperglycemic syndrome (HHS), which causes a severe and persistent increase in blood sugar levels. An illness or infection will usually trigger HHS, which can require hospitalization. This sudden complication tends to affect older people.

Anyone can develop type 2 diabetes, but certain factors can increase a person’s risk. These risk factors include:

  • being 45 years of age or older
  • living a sedentary lifestyle
  • having overweight or obesity
  • eating an unbalanced diet
  • having a family history of diabetes
  • having polycystic ovary syndrome
  • having a medical history of gestational diabetes, heart disease, or stroke
  • having prediabetes

Diabetes and ethnicity

The prevalence of diabetes is different among races and ethnicities. The American Diabetes Association reports the following rate of diagnosed diabetes in adults in different groups.

GroupDiabetes prevalence
American Indian/Alaskan Native14.5%
non-Hispanic Black12.1%
Asian American9.5%
non-Hispanic white7.4%

Type 2 diabetes is a common condition that causes high blood sugar levels. Early signs and symptoms can include tiredness and hunger, frequent urination, increased thirst, vision problems, slow wound healing, and yeast infections.

Anyone who experiences possible signs and symptoms of diabetes should contact a doctor for an evaluation, especially if they have other risk factors for developing this condition. The early detection and treatment of type 2 diabetes can improve a person’s quality of life and reduce the risk of severe complications.

It is important to have a support system of people who understand what it is like to have a diagnosis and live with type 2 diabetes. Bezzy T2D is a free app that supports people with type 2 diabetes through one-on-one and live group discussions. Download the app for iPhone or Android.

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