Subtle Signs You May Get Diabetes, Warn Doctors

Diabetes is at record levels in the United States. Almost 34 million Americans—just over 10.5% of the population—are affected by the body's inability to adequately process blood sugar. The condition's ubiquity may make it seem like no big deal, but nothing could be further from the truth: Untreated diabetes can damage blood vessels throughout the body, leading to heart disease, stroke, blindness, even amputation.

Type 1 diabetes tends to develop in childhood, and it's unclear whether it can be prevented. But the American epidemic of diabetes is driven by Type 2, which generally develops in adulthood because of avoidable unhealthy habits, like a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. We asked two experts from Harvard Medical School (and contributors to the new documentary Better) how to recognize the subtle signs you might have diabetes. Read on to find out more, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID and Didn't Know It.


You're Getting Older

doctor with glucometer and insulin pen device talking to male patient at medical office in hospital

People should first be screened for diabetes at age of 45, then every three years after that, says JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital. According to the CDC, being over 45 is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.


You Have Obesity or Are Gaining Weight

If you have obesity, screening should begin earlier than age 45, says Manson. The CDC says overweight or obesity are both risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes.


You Have Unexplained Weight Loss

woman weighing herself overweight on scale

While overweight is a risk factor for diabetes, losing weight over a period of time without trying can be a subtle sign of the condition. "With diabetes, people can lose weight initially, without knowing that they're in the midst of their blood glucose being out of control," says John Ratey, MD, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. A friend of Ratey's lost 20 pounds over six months before being diagnosed—his blood glucose level was three times the normal level when he was hospitalized, before it was brought back under control with medication, diet, and exercise.


You're Urinating Frequently or Are More Thirsty

woman in bed feeling thirsty reaching for water

"What people will often start to notice is that they're urinating more often or they're thirsty more than usual," says Manson. That's because excess blood sugar (glucose) is delivered to the kidneys, which work overtime to flush it out, causing frequent urination. Meanwhile, the excess blood sugar pulls electrolytes and fluids from tissue and organs, causing dehydration and thirst. 


You Have Blurred Vision

Blurred and double vision while driving

"Sometimes someone with diabetes will start to develop a little blurred vision," says Manson. "In fact, it's not unusual for the eye doctor to pick up signs of diabetes, especially in someone who is not having regular screenings for their blood sugar."


You Feel Tingling Here

Woman sitting on a sofa and rubbing her hands.

"Sometimes people will have what we call parasthesias or neuropathy—tingling or change in sensation in the nerve endings, especially in the hands and feet," says Manson. "That can also be a sign of blood sugar being elevated." 


You Have Fatigue You Can't Shake

Woman suffering from cold, virus lying on the sofa under the blanket

Persistent fatigue is also a common sign of diabetes, says Ratey. If you're getting enough sleep and your lifestyle hasn't changed, but find you don't have the energy to go through your day as usual, it's a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider. And to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these 16 "Health" Tips to Stop Following Immediately.

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