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Diabetes can show symptoms early on. Look for these signs so you can take action.

Has your mouth felt a little dry lately? You might chalk it up to not drinking enough water or sweating more. And that pesky blurry vision? Maybe it’s your glasses. That lingering exhaustion? You’ve been busier lately.

These common annoyances could add up to nothing. But they can also be early signs of diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes happens when your blood sugar levels are too high. There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.

You develop Type 1 diabetes when your pancreas can’t make enough insulin. Type 1 typically begins in childhood, but it can come on at any age.

When you have Type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well. This more common form usually develops in adulthood.

While diabetes can cause other symptoms, the most common is high blood sugar.

"The telltale sign you have diabetes is a higher-than-normal level of glucose — a type of sugar — in your blood," says Brian Jameson, DO, endocrinologist at Geisinger.

But even before you know your blood sugar is elevated, you may have a few other symptoms.

Symptoms of diabetes

Diabetes symptoms can come on quickly. Or they can be so mild that you don’t notice them. That’s why it’s smart to learn the warning signs of diabetes.

Feeling hungrier and more tired than usual

When you eat, your digestive system gets to work digesting that food. As you digest, your digestive system converts food into glucose, which your body uses for energy. But if you have diabetes, your body doesn’t send enough glucose to your cells. This can leave you feeling ravenous and needing a nap, even if you just ate.

"If your body isn't making enough insulin (or any at all) you’ll have less energy and your appetite may change,” Dr. Jameson says.

Running to the bathroom constantly and feeling thirsty

When you have diabetes, your body may not reabsorb the glucose that passes through your kidneys. That means your kidneys work harder than they need to.

“To get rid of excess glucose, your body will make more urine,” says Dr. Jameson.

If your body is making more urine, you’ll visit the restroom more often. And all those trips to the bathroom can make you pretty thirsty, which leads to — you guessed it — more trips to the bathroom.

Blurry vision

The cycle of producing excess urine and being thirsty also affects your vision.

"When your blood sugar rises, your body's fluid levels change," Dr. Jameson notes. “This allows fluid to seep into your eyes, making your vision fuzzy.”

Dry mouth and itchy skin

Since your body is using fluids to produce more urine than usual, there's less moisture for other things — like your mouth and skin.

"You're at risk of getting dehydrated, and your mouth will most likely feel dry," says Dr. Jameson.

However, having these symptoms doesn’t automatically mean you have diabetes.

Other symptoms to watch for:

Contact your healthcare provider if you’re having any of these symptoms:

  • Frequent urination
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Sweet breath that smells like nail polish remover
  • Deep, rapid breathing

These can be signs of more serious diabetes complications.

Early intervention makes a difference

Your symptoms might be mild. And you might not notice them at first. But mild symptoms can progress quickly, so listening to your body is key.

"Identifying diabetes early is key to avoiding nerve damage, heart issues and other complications that untreated diabetes can lead to," Dr. Jameson says.

So if you notice any of these signs, give your doctor a call. They can help you get tested. And if you do have diabetes, your provider will work with you to build a treatment plan that helps you feel your best.

Next steps: 

Think thin people can’t get diabetes? Think again.
Learn about diabetes care at Geisinger
Meet Brian Jameson, DO

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