High blood sugar can sneak up on you without any obvious symptoms. In fact, most people don’t know they have high blood sugar until they have type 2 diabetes – and probably have had it for some time.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
The telltale signs of type 2 diabetes, such as frequent urination and excessive thirst, are often subtle, especially early on. But ignoring them can cause worse health problems down the road.
Even mild blood sugar elevation can damage your nerves, kidneys and retinas. And the higher your blood sugar levels and the longer you go without treatment, the worse the damage can get.
“When we diagnose someone, we assume they have probably already had diabetes for about five years,” says endocrinologist Kevin Pantalone, DO. “During screenings, a certain number of people who are newly diagnosed already have kidney problems and retinal issues, so they’ve had it for some time.”
Dr. Pantalone says there are several symptoms that can occur early on with diabetes. Even if they’re subtle, they’re worth mentioning to your doctor.
1. You’re making more trips to the bathroom
Having to go to the bathroom more than normal, particularly at night, is a sign that your blood sugar might be out of whack.
Dr. Pantalone says one of his patients came in for a diagnosis after a family member noticed that he was using the bathroom during each commercial break when they watched TV.
2. You’re getting frequent urinary or yeast infections
When your blood sugar is high and your kidneys can’t filter it well enough, sugar ends up in the urine. More sugar in a warm, moist environment can cause urinary tract and yeast infections, especially in women.
3. You’re losing weight without trying
If you have diabetes, your body isn’t able to use glucose (sugar) as effectively for its energy. Instead, your body will start burning fat stores, and you may experience unexpected weight loss.
4. Your vision is getting worse
High sugar levels can distort the lenses in your eyes, worsening your vision. Changes in your eyeglass prescription or vision are sometimes a sign of diabetes.
5. You’re feeling fatigued or exhausted
Several underlying causes of fatigue may relate to diabetes/high sugar levels, including dehydration (from frequent urination, which can disrupt sleep) and kidney damage.
This feeling of exhaustion is often persistent and can interfere with your daily activities, Dr. Pantalone says.
6. You’re noticing skin discoloration
Something that Dr. Pantalone often sees in patients before a diabetes diagnosis is dark skin in the neck folds and over the knuckles. Insulin resistance can cause this condition, known as acanthosis nigricans.
Regular testing can put you in the know
“Often what happens is people minimize the symptoms or rationalize them and they get worse until they become severe enough that they have to see someone,” Dr. Pantalone says. “They have excessive weight loss or are really tired of peeing all night.”
Because symptoms of diabetes are often subtle or nonexistent, especially around the onset, it’s important to see your doctor regularly for a checkup and testing. This is particularly vital if you are overweight or have risk factors — if diabetes runs in your family, for instance.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for type 2 diabetes if you are between the ages of 40 and 70. If results are normal, you should repeat the testing every three years. If you have a risk factor, the task force recommends beginning screening at a younger age and testing more frequently.