Afflicting as many as 30 million people nationwide, diabetes is extremely common in the United States. According to the American Diabetes Association, the disease kills more people than AIDS and breast cancer combined, but what's even more worrying is the fact that as many as one in four people with diabetes aren't aware they even have it.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that on top of these 30 million, there are a further 84 million Americans who have pre-diabetes, but 90 percent of people have no idea they're at risk. Here are just a few signs that you could have diabetes that you very easily could miss.
1. You constantly need to pee
Going to the bathroom a few times a day is absolutely no problem - in fact, it's a healthy sign that your body is getting the hydration it needs to properly function. But if you're having to go to the bathroom several times a day (waking up during the night to pee is also a big sign) Mary Vouyiouklis Kellis, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic, says this might be a sign you've got excess sugar coursing through your veins. "Water follows sugar, so you end up having high-volume urine loss,” she explains.
2. You're constantly thirsty
If you're having to go to the bathroom at all times of the day, perhaps it's not a surprise that your body loses a lot of water in the process. Poorani Goundan, an endocrinologist at Boston Medical Center, says that many young women are at threat of diabetes because they overlook the subtle signs, and one of the most common signs is an unusual thirst. Symptoms include dark-colored urine, water weight loss, and extreme thirst; the latter of which Goundan says could lead to an unexpected escalation of matters. “Some patients who don’t know they have diabetes quench their thirst with sugary drinks like soda or juice, which adds to their blood sugars,” she reveals.
3. You've got bad breath
Bad breath is symptom number three in the trifecta of diabetes dehydration, and if you're laying off the garlic and the onions yet still find yourself having to pop a breath mint or two, it's perhaps time to see a doctor. This is all down to a dehydrated dry mouth, which means not enough saliva is getting to your teeth, tongue et al to wash out all that bacteria and balance the pH in your mouth. What's more - undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes can lead to something called ketosis, where your body burns fat instead of glucose to generate energy, leaving your breath smelling weirdly fruity or sweet. If you're not on a keto diet, then this should be of concern.
4. You're having vision problems
Heading to your optometrist more than usual? Struggling to focus your eyes, especially on things that are far away? Blurry vision is a symptom of diabetes that's overlooked for many women across the country, but Kellis reminds us all that fluids always follow sugar, and that's especially important for your eyes. When that fluid builds up in your eyes, you might experience nearsightedness or blurry vision. Luckily, Kellis also says that your vision should clear up once you get your blood sugar levels under control.
5. Your hands and feet get numb a lot
If you've accidentally fallen asleep on your arm and had a little pins and needles, perhaps that's nothing to worry about. But if you're constantly getting a numb feeling in your hands and feet, then it might be an early sign that you've got something called neuropathy. It's a condition characterized by numbness or weird sensations in your hands and feet, and a 2017 review in the publication Diabetes Care says that this occurs in more than half of people with type 2 diabetes. Over time, diabetes reduces the blood flow to your extremities, which damages your blood vessels and nerves.
6. You've got a lot of cuts and bruises, which take a long time to heal
Whether you've got a scrape on your arm or you've got a bruise after falling over on a drunken night out, small and superficial damage to your skin is part and parcel of a normal and exciting life. But if days and weeks go by with those wounds refusing to heal, this is a telltale sign you might have type 2 diabetes. “You’re less likely to notice a cut because you can’t feel it, which means you’re less likely to take care of it and it’s more likely to get infected,” says Goundan, while "high blood sugars provide a good environment for bacteria to grow”. Diabetes can also weaken your immune system, and as Kellis concurs: "When you have high blood sugar, it’s like delaying your body’s army to go to the wound to heal it.”
7. You're suddenly losing weight without even trying
For a lot of us, the ability to lose weight effortlessly sounds like an enviable problem to have. But when you're not dieting, exercising or anything else and still find yourself losing weight, those pounds dropping off become a cause for concern. Diabetes is defined as an increased resistance to the hormone insulin, and when that happens, your body isn't able to turn the sugar in your blood to energy for your cells. “Because you’re unable to get enough energy from sugar, your body burns your own fat and muscle for energy," Kellis says. "Weight loss can be pretty significant, sometimes 10 to 20 pounds." If you find yourself accidentally losing between five to 10 percent of your body weight within six months, it may be time to see a doctor.
8. You're tired all the time
Similar to weight loss, a constant, unending fatigue is a surefire sign your body isn't getting the energy it needs from carbs and other foods containing a ton of glucose, which may mean diabetes. Diabetes-related dehydration may also be a reason you're feeling tired, but if you're looking for a diabetes diagnosis, you might need a bit more evidence. Your diet, stress levels, and your sleep quality could also be reason for tiredness, so don't jump to conclusions so much with this one.
While type 2 diabetes is more manageable today than it has been in the past, the diagnosis could a life-changing event in your life. Whether you're on the road to diabetes or going through your life misdiagnosed, I hope that these symptoms help you to stay well ahead of the disease.