Diabetes is a condition that can affect the whole body and cause a variety of symptoms. Many common and unusual symptoms occur due to uncontrolled high blood sugars. Recognizing symptoms early on can be key to successfully treating and managing the condition.

Diabetes describes a group of health conditions that impairs how the body processes sugar for energy. The most common types of diabetes include type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Without proper care and management, diabetes can result in several complications. As such, it is important for people to be aware of common and unusual symptoms that may indicate diabetes.

This article discusses some unusual signs of diabetes, as well as more common warning signs and when to contact a doctor.

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Some potential unusual symptoms of diabetes may include:

1. Skin changes

Diabetes can potentially impact many parts of the body, including the skin. When blood sugars become too high, this can often manifest on the skin.

For example, diabetes can result in the development of dark patches on the skin, particularly in skin folds, such as the back of the neck, armpit, and groin. This condition is known as acanthosis nigricans. While the exact cause is unknown, evidence suggests it relates to insulin resistance and occurs due to a person having too much insulin in their blood.

High blood sugars can also cause other skin conditions, such as diabetic dermopathy and eruptive xanthomatosis. Furthermore, high blood sugar levels can also result in a person experiencing dry and itchy skin.

Learn more about type 2 diabetes and skin health.

2. Poor healing

Elevated blood sugar levels can result in wounds that are slow to heal, do not heal well, or never heal at all. High blood sugar levels can impair the function of white blood cells, which play an important role in the immune system. If they are unable to function correctly, the body is less able to close wounds.

High blood glucose can also affect circulation and lead to nerve damage. Poor circulation can slow healing as it makes blood move more slowly, which can make it difficult for the body to deliver nutrients to wounds. Due to nerve damage, a person may not notice the wound and be unable to care for it properly.

Learn more about diabetes and wound healing.

3. Vision changes

High blood sugar levels can also damage the eyes and impact a person’s vision. High blood glucose levels can damage small blood vessels present in the eye and cause them to weaken and bulge. This can result in these delicate blood vessels leaking blood and other fluids, which may lead to swelling that can distort vision.

Over time, uncontrolled blood sugars can result in serious eye issues, which can harm vision and may lead to vision loss.

Learn more about diabetes and blurry vision.

4. Fruity breath

Many people may associate breath odor with a recent meal or poor dental hygiene. However, it could also be a potential sign of diabetes — more commonly with type 1. A fruity scent on the breath is typically a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis. This term refers to when the body is unable to get energy from glucose, so instead, it initiates a state of ketosis and begins to burn fat for fuel.

When the body is unable to produce or effectively use insulin, blood glucose levels rise. This is because insulin is responsible for allowing glucose in the blood to enter cells so they can use it as energy. Without insulin, the body instead uses fat for energy, releasing acidic byproducts known as ketones.

Acetone is a type of ketone, which is the fruity-smelling substance commonly found in some nail polish removers. If a person has fruity breath, this could suggest high levels of ketones in their blood due to diabetes. When the body produces too many ketones too quickly, they can build up to dangerous levels in the body and cause serious complications.

5. Recurring infections

Another potential sign of diabetes is a higher risk of infections. This is because high blood sugar levels can weaken a person’s immune system and allow infections to develop more quickly. For example, a person with diabetes may be more likely to experience urinary tract infections (UTIs) and yeast infections.

Diabetes can present with a variety of potential symptoms — what one individual experiences can differ from another. However, evidence suggests that the most common symptoms of diabetes typically include:

Some people may refer to the above as the 4 Ts of diabetes, which refers to thirst, using the toilet, feeling tired, and becoming thinner.

Additionally, others may mention the three polys of diabetes as common warning signs. This term is in reference to:

  • Polyuria: Urinating frequently to help the body remove excess glucose that the kidneys filter from the blood.
  • Polydipsia: Increased thirst to compensate for the loss of fluids from urination.
  • Polyphagia: Increased appetite due to the loss of glucose and fluids from excessive urination.

In addition to the above, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also note that other signs of diabetes may include:

  • blurry vision
  • tingling hands or feet
  • dry skin
  • sores that heal slowly
  • experiencing more infections than usual

It is highly advisable for a person to contact a healthcare professional if they experience symptoms such as frequent urination, increased thirst, and fatigue. A doctor can perform tests to measure a person’s blood sugar levels, such as an A1C test, which can help diagnose diabetes.

It is also important to consider risk factors for diabetes, which can make a person more susceptible to developing the condition. Possible risk factors for different types of diabetes can include:

  • Type 1: Having a close relative with type 1 diabetes.
  • Type 2: Having prediabetes, obesity, or a family history of type 2 diabetes.
  • Gestational: Having gestational diabetes with a previous pregnancy, previously giving birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, or having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

After receiving a diagnosis of diabetes, a doctor will recommend regular checkups every 3–6 months to help monitor a person’s health and ensure they are successfully following their treatment plan.

Diabetes may impact the whole body and cause various symptoms, which can make it difficult to recognize signs of the condition. It is important for people to be mindful of more common symptoms, such as increased thirst and frequent urination, but also to consider more unusual symptoms, such as fruity breath and blurry vision.

If a person experiences symptoms that could indicate diabetes, it is advisable to make an appointment with a doctor. A healthcare professional can assess symptoms and perform tests to confirm or rule out the condition. With a diagnosis, a doctor can recommend the most suitable course of treatment.