Diabetes is a very common condition in the UK, but what are the early signs of diabetes?
It’s a condition that can be hard to detect despite the fact that around 850,000 people in the UK are living with diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, in particular, can develop gradually, with mild signs and symptoms.
And many people do not even realise they have the condition until they are tested.
However, there are some signs and symptoms to look out for.
Let's take a look at just what are the early signs of diabetes?
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:
- The early signs of diabetes can be similar in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes symptoms can come on quickly and be very severe.
- Type 2 diabetes early signs have the potential to be very mild.
- Prediabetes and gestational diabetes have very few to no early symptoms or signs.
What happens in diabetes?
Diabetes is a collection of different types of a similar condition.
In all of them, the body has a problem making the right amount or quality of insulin.
The digestive process turns the food we eat into a form of sugar called glucose.
The cells and organs of the body get most of their energy or fuel from this glucose.
When glucose gets into the bloodstream, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin.
The purpose of insulin is to help the glucose get into the cells and organs that need it for fuel.
When cells develop problems with processing glucose, this is called insulin resistance.
If the pancreas then does not increase production of insulin, or produces poor quality insulin, the cells are unable to take up this glucose.
In this case, if more or better insulin isn’t produced, glucose remains in the bloodstream.
This means the cells and organs of the body do not get the fuel they need to function properly. This is, in essence, what causes diabetes.
You can get a blood sugar test from your GP.
When the results of this blood sugar test rise above normal levels, diabetes is diagnosed.
What are the early signs of diabetes and what types are there?
- Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition with no definite cause or trigger. It can be managed quite well with medical assistance.
- Gestational diabetes is caused by hormones secreted by the placenta in late pregnancy. Again it can be managed quite well, and usually passes once the pregnancy is over.
- Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are slightly different. There are known correlations between lifestyle factors and developing the conditions.
- Someone with undiagnosed prediabetes will likely develop type 2 diabetes within five years if they take no action to correct it.
What are the early signs of diabetes?
These are the most common early signs of diabetes:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Aditional hunger
- Dry Mouth
- Itchy skin
- Recurrent fungal or yeast infections like thrush
Gestational diabetes usually has no or very few signs. For this reason, a routine blood test takes place late in pregnancy.
Prediabetes usually has very little warning signs, as the condition is not yet fully established.
However, there may be small symptoms that are easily passed off as something else.
For instance, feeling more tired than usual might be explained away as stress, or playing too much with the grandchildren.
Being more thirsty than usual could be blamed on a salty meal or a period of warm weather.
Type 2 diabetes
Like prediabetes, signs of type 2 diabetes are often small and can be explained away as something else.
This is because the condition usually develops very slowly, over a period of months, or sometimes years.
Prediabetes can take five years to develop into type 2 diabetes.
However, there are some early signs of diabetes that can be monitored over a period of time.
It is important to note any change in what is normal for you. Many people only realise they have type 2 diabetes once they are experiencing damage as a result of it.
Damage can include blurred vision, eventual sight loss, loss of limbs and damage to internal organs. Heart disease is also linked to diabetes.
What are the early signs of diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes usually has the most swift and significant early signs.
They are similar to type 2 diabetes but usually present in a matter of days or weeks.
The condition does not take years to manifest or develop as prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Unexplained weight loss
One early sign as the condition takes hold is unexplained weight loss.
As glucose from food is now not the body’s main source of fuel, it has to find another source.
Fat and muscle will instead be used to create energy. This could lead to sudden weight loss as your fat and muscle reserves are depleted.
If this happens, nausea and vomiting may accompany the weight loss.
As the body burns fat and muscle, it enters a state called ketosis.
This is where ketones from the fat and muscle are used for energy. These ketones can cause digestive upset.
Excessive thirst is one of the first signs to come on, as is excessive urination.
A person with early signs of type 1 diabetes is also likely to be thoroughly exhausted.
They will often be unfathomably hungry, yet feel very weak. Blurred vision may also add to this already severe list of symptoms.
All of the list of common early symptoms are likely to apply to type 1 diabetics.
However early signs will be dramatic and severe, unlike most people with type 2 or prediabetes.
Why are these early signs of diabetes happening?
Excessive or increased thirst
As the level of sugar in the blood is now too high, the body tries to get rid of it.
The way it does this is through the urine. As you are now urinating more frequently, you will feel much more thirsty.
This thirst is to make sure you keep up fluid levels to flush away the excess glucose.
The body tries to flush out excess glucose when blood sugar levels become too high.
This is also because the kidneys filter the blood to clean it. Waste products from the blood, plus fluid, make up urine.
The kidneys cannot cope with filtering out so much excess glucose, so go into overdrive of urine production.
This is the best way the body knows to regulate the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.
In diabetic conditions, the body has an excess of glucose.
It can no longer use this glucose to fuel the cells and organs.
This means the cells and organs have less fuel than they need to operate optimally.
This leads to feeling more hungry as the body struggles to regulate its glucose levels, insulin production, and fuel uptake.
As the cells and organs fail to be properly fuelled, they work less well than they should.
The cells are not getting the energy they need, as insulin isn’t working well enough to get it to them.
No matter how much someone eats, this food energy can’t be used by the body.
Because nothing in the body is fuelled or working properly, this leads to feeling very tired.
Thanks to the excessive urination and thirst brought on by diabetic conditions, fluid levels in the body are incorrect.
This causes an issue in the eyes.
The lenses of the eyes retain more fluid than they should due to fluctuating hydration levels.
This causes the lenses to swell up, which directly affects vision. It is unlikely to be corrected by wearing your usual spectacles.
Blurred vision may come and go depending on hydration levels.
The excess glucose in the bloodstream finds its way out of the body via urine. This causes the urine to be full of sugary glucose.
These high levels of sugar make the best breeding ground for conditions such as thrush.
Also, any other yeast or fungus which feeds on sugar. This can affect both men and women.
Yeast or fungal infections aren’t confined to the genitals.
As sugar levels are higher than normal, it increases the likelihood of yeast infections in any fold of skin.
Dry Skin and itches
Dry and itchy skin is a direct result of dehydration.
Dehydration is brought about by the body’s need to rid itself of glucose through urine.
Much more fluid than usual is being used to create urine to try and bring the blood sugar back to normal.
As a result, there is less left for the skin, a major organ of the body.
With less fluid available for it to use, dry skin occurs. Dry skin is often itchy skin.
This dehydration may also make your mouth feel frequently dry, no matter how much you drink.
And if you’re wondering how to test for diabetes at home, you can’t – you must see a medical professional.
I may have early signs of diabetes, what should I do?
The early signs of diabetes, particularly type 1 diabetes, can develop very quickly.
Within weeks or days the condition can lead to feeling extremely unwell.
Seeking help from your GP as soon as possible after displaying the main symptoms of diabetes will help to manage the condition quickly.
Type 2 diabetes tends to develop over months or years, so the symptoms are not always as obvious or dramatic.
If you are at risk of type 2 diabetes and develop any of the symptoms in this article, see your GP immediately.
And if you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes don’t despair, lifestyle changes can make a huge difference.
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