Diabetes limits the body’s ability to control the amount of glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Keeping an eye out for the early symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes can help ensure a timely diagnosis and prevent complications.

The two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Type 2 is more common.

Both keep the body from creating and using the hormone insulin effectively. Insulin enables the body to process sugar in the blood and make sure that it stays at a healthy level. If levels of blood sugar, or glucose, get too high, it can damage cells and cause complications throughout the body.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 26.8 million people in the United States had a diagnosis of diabetes in 2018. Among them, nearly 1.6 million had type 1 diabetes.

Meanwhile, they estimate that another 7.3 million people had undiagnosed diabetes that same year. And in 2015, they report, about 88 million people had prediabetes — high blood sugar levels indicating that a person is at risk of diabetes.

Being able to identify early symptoms of diabetes can help a person know when to seek care. Receiving a diagnosis and treatment early can prevent long-term damage.

young woman looking in window

Some signs and symptoms of diabetes that common to both types include:

  • fatigue
  • hunger during or shortly after a meal
  • weight loss, despite eating more
  • extreme thirst
  • frequent urination
  • blurred vision
  • slow healing of cuts and bruises
  • tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands or feet
  • acanthosis nigricans, an issue that causes skin on the neck, armpits, groin, and other areas to change color and texture, possibly becoming velvety

It is worth noting that factors such as age and overall health can affect how a person experiences these symptoms.

Type 1 diabetes in infants and young children

Young children are more likely to develop type 1 than type 2. A caregiver may notice.

  • fatigue
  • intense hunger
  • unexplained weight loss
  • vision changes
  • yeast infections, which may present as a diaper rash
  • a fruity smell on the breath
  • unusual behavior, such as irritability, restlessness, or mood changes

Type 1 diabetes in adults

This condition usually arises during childhood, but it can appear at any age. A person should see a doctor if they develop:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • extreme thirst
  • frequent urination
  • blurry vision
  • repeated yeast infections
  • slow healing of cuts and bruises

Type 2 diabetes

Many people only learn that they have type 2 diabetes during a routine checkup. Others see doctors about symptoms of the condition or its complications.

Symptoms of diabetes-related complications include:

  • skin infections or itching
  • eye and vision changes
  • tingling, pain, numbness, and weakness in the feet and hands
  • poor circulation and ulcers on the feet
  • thirst or dry mouth
  • a fruity odor on the breath
  • kidney problems

The sooner a person with diabetes receives a diagnosis, the sooner they can start treatment, which focuses on regulating blood sugar levels.

Hyperglycemia is the medical name for high blood sugar levels. It can occur when a person’s treatment plan is not sufficient to manage their diabetes or when factors prevent the person from following their treatment plan.

Without treatment, hyperglycemia can cause the complications below.

Diabetic ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is an acute condition in which substances called ketones accumulate in the body. Ketones are a byproduct that forms when the body breaks down fat for fuel.

DKA can develop within hours, and it can be life threatening. Early signs and symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • severe dry mouth
  • high blood sugar levels
  • high ketone levels in the urine

After this, the following may occur:

  • tiredness
  • dry or flushed skin
  • nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty focusing
  • confusion
  • a fruity smell on the breath

Anyone with these symptoms needs emergency medical attention.

Long-term diabetes complications

The following tend to occur later in life if a person does not receive effective treatment:

Also, some people with long-term diabetes complications require the amputation of a limb.

Receiving treatment for either type of diabetes early can help prevent these from happening.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes develops when the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin.

When this happens, the body cannot produce enough insulin to process and regulate blood sugar.

As a result, people with type 1 diabetes require lifelong insulin in addition to other therapies and care strategies.

Health experts are still unsure of the precise causes, but genetic and environmental factors, such as viruses, may play a role.

Type 2 diabetes

A person with type 2 diabetes either does not produce enough insulin or their body does not use it efficiently. The latter is known as insulin resistance.

In a person with type 2, excess sugar builds up in the bloodstream, resulting in symptoms and, without treatment, complications.

Type 2 diabetes typically develops in older adults, but it can affect younger people.

Increasing age is the most significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Other factors can also play a role. For example, the condition is more common among Black Americans and Native Americans, compared with their white counterparts.

Also, type 2 diabetes appears to be more common among people who:

  • have obesity
  • have overweight
  • are not physically active or have a sedentary lifestyle
  • have extra belly fat
  • have had gestational diabetes, which develops during pregnancy
  • have hypertension, or high blood pressure
  • are older than 35
  • have a family history

A doctor typically diagnoses diabetes by asking about symptoms and ordering a blood test, which can show high blood sugar levels.

If the person is not experiencing symptoms, the doctor may order a follow-up test to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment depends on the type of diabetes. A person with type 1 needs to take insulin every day, using injections or pumps.

For a person with type 2 diabetes, a doctor recommends self-care strategies and other ways to manage blood sugar levels. This might involve taking prescribed medications, including insulin.

It is important to follow the recommended treatment plan. Anyone who is having difficulty doing this or experiencing any side effects should consult their doctor for guidance right away.

Spotting the early symptoms of diabetes can help a person receive a timely diagnosis and start treatment right away. This helps prevent diabetes complications, which can be very dangerous.

Anyone who thinks that they may have diabetes should contact a doctor.