Many people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are taken by surprise because the condition often develops without obvious symptoms. Persistently high blood sugar levels due to type 2 diabetes can cause subtle, early symptoms such as increased appetite and thirst, frequent urination and fatigue. However, these symptoms can be easily missed because they are typically mild and develop gradually. For some people, therefore, the earliest recognized symptoms of type 2 diabetes are related to complications of the disease. Examples include vision changes, slow wound healing, and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.
Increased Thirst and Urination
Increased thirst is the most common symptom of type 2 diabetes. When blood sugar levels get too high, some of the excess sugar spills into the urine, causing the kidneys to release additional water. This leads to increased urine production and frequent urination. The loss of water through the kidneys causes dehydration, which causes a dry mouth and stimulates increased thirst. People with undiagnosed diabetes may drink large amounts as they attempt to quench their thirst. Drinking beverages with a lot of sugar makes the problem worse.
Fatigue and Increased Hunger
Blood sugar is the primary fuel the body uses to produce energy. With type 2 diabetes, body tissues cannot absorb blood sugar normally. This leaves them low on fuel and lacking energy. Given this, it's not surprising that fatigue -- feeling tired all the time for no apparent reason -- may be a symptom of diabetes. Fatigue describes like lack of mental and physical energy rather than drowsiness. The shortage of energy production in the body can also stimulate increased hunger and eating. Although uncommon, some people with type 2 diabetes experience weight loss as an early symptom of the disease -- despite eating the same or larger amounts of food.
Yeast Infections and Slow Healing
High blood sugar levels disrupt the normal function of the immune system, which can make people with type 2 diabetes more susceptible to yeast infections. Itchiness involving the genital area, therefore, may be an early symptom of diabetes, particularly in women. A rash on the genitals and/or upper thighs may also signal a diabetes-related yeast infection. Additionally, longstanding undiagnosed diabetes impairs wound healing. So slow-healing wounds may also be a sign of type 2 diabetes.
Blurry Vision and Numbness or Tingling
The eyes are susceptible to changes caused by high blood sugar due to type 2 diabetes. In the early stages, people may notice nearsightedness or blurry vision due to changes in the focusing lens of the eye. Persistently high blood sugar levels also damage the nerves over time. People whose type 2 diabetes has gone undiagnosed for many years may experience numbness or tingling in the hands and feet as the first noticeable symptom of the disease. Sensitivity to touch and temperature may also be reduced.
When to Seek Medical Care
It's important not to ignore possible early signs and symptoms of diabetes because the illness can cause permanent damage to your body even if you don't feel terribly sick. Talk with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that may indicate type 2 diabetes, especially if you are overweight, have close family members with the disease or have had pregnancy-related diabetes. Seek emergency medical care if you experience extreme thirst or dry mouth along with confusion, irritability, a low fever, weakness, leg cramps, profound lack of energy, nausea, vomiting or swelling in your abdomen. These may be symptoms of a serious diabetes-related condition called hyperosmolar hyperglycemic nonketotic syndrome, or HHNS. The condition can lead to seizures, coma and death if not treated right away.
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- American Family Physician: Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State