Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, LADA, and type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes can be fatal if undetected. Even if you don’t have diabetes yourself, it is important to be familiar with the symptoms. This knowledge could save someone’s life, especially as a new mom or dad; it could save your baby’s life.

It is important to understand that symptoms can develop at different stages of the disease and progress in severity. If you are concerned about any of these symptoms, look at the three scenarios provided below to see if any of these scenarios might be an accurate picture of what you are experiencing.

Because type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, the symptoms experienced usually happen in a few weeks or quicker. However, symptoms can be slower to develop for some people, though this is less common for type 1 diabetes. These symptoms also tend to be more severe and progressive.

Type 2 diabetes usually develops more gradually, and symptoms can often progress over several months or longer. Also, many of these symptoms can be very mild. For many people, some symptoms aren’t noticed until after the diagnosis. Once diagnosed, it’s easier to look back and recognize symptoms you may not have connected.

The symptoms of any type of diabetes result from elevated glucose levels, also known as your blood sugar level. LADA diabetes (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults, also sometimes called type 1.5 diabetes) is a version of diabetes that starts with symptoms mimicking type 2 diabetes and eventually ends up with symptoms and treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Total Diabetes Wellness recommends having your doctor test your blood sugar if you experience any of these symptoms. You may be in the temporary prediabetes phase, and early detection on your end could save you the trouble of transitioning into permanent type 2 diabetes.

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes

Skin Discoloration

Boy with Acanthosis nigricans on the back of neckSkin discoloration may happen while you are in the prediabetes phase. You may notice some dark discoloration on the back of your neck. This skin discoloration is usually a sign of insulin resistance during prediabetes, a temporary disease. If caught early enough, you can make changes in your life to avoid developing type 2 diabetes, a permanent disease. To learn how to reverse type 2 diabetes or get rid of prediabetes, view our Diabetes Wellness Plan.


Fatigue is one of the first symptoms you may experience with diabetes. Fatigue occurs because your body needs insulin to take in glucose while converting food to energy. By not making enough insulin or being insulin resistant, glucose can’t get into your body’s cells and therefore doesn’t allow your body to create energy. More specific examples would be feeling very sleepy and lethargic after a meal. 

You may notice yourself taking naps in the afternoon, despite never feeling the need to nap before this point. If you do already take naps, you may notice yourself needing to take much longer naps. You may find yourself losing motivation to complete certain everyday tasks, such as work, exercise, or even house chores. This symptom may be so subtle that you don’t even realize it is happening. Again, if naps and inexplicable fatigue are happening, you should consult your doctor.


Hungry woman looking into the open refrigerator for food.Hunger, sometimes extreme hunger, can be experienced when you’re not making enough insulin or are insulin resistant. When insulin isn’t getting into your body’s cells, your body cannot create energy.  Although you may also experience weight loss, it is possible to feel hungry and feel the need to eat more often and eat more than usual. An example is eating a meal and then finding yourself hungry 30 to 60 minutes later. Another example is if food does not allow you to feel full or satiated.


Irritability may happen due to the change in your blood sugar levels. Because diabetes is a hormonal disease, the change in your hormones may cause you to get upset and angry in situations you may otherwise not. You may also notice that you find yourself angry and filled with rage when upset, which might be out of character for you. Swings in blood sugar, affecting your hormones, may cause you to behave angrily without provocation.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss may happen without making any changes in your lifestyle or diet. If you notice recent unexplained weight loss, then you may have diabetes. Weight loss occurs because your body starts burning fat and muscle for energy. Weight loss is typically noticed shortly before diagnosing type 1 diabetes and sometimes happens for people with type 2 diabetes or LADA diabetes.

Frequent Urination

Frequent urination would be considered anything reasonably above normal for you. Most people urinate 4-7 times per day, depending on age, what and how much they drink, medical or special conditions, medications, and their bladder size. The main focus is that you notice the frequency increases each day, especially if you have a relatively consistent daily schedule.

Public restrooms with male and female sign on the wall

This symptom occurs because your body cannot absorb all of the glucose, forcing your kidneys to deal with it. Your kidneys won’t be able to handle the excess glucose and will then eliminate the glucose through urine. Examples might include needing to wake up one or more times during the night to urinate when you previously slept through the night. Eventually, you may find yourself adding additional trips to the bathroom throughout the day. Although this can happen with age, this symptom and any others listed are potentially a warning sign for something more serious.

Increased Thirst

Increased thirst is caused by increased urination. You will become thirstier than usual as a result. As you can see, this may become quite the cycle. Urination more often leads to feeling thirsty, so you drink more water.

Dry Mouth and Itchy Skin

Dry mouth and itchy skin happen because of all the fluid your body is losing. These symptoms are a continuation of frequent urination and increased thirst. In addition, losing fluid in your body will cause your mouth to become dry and your skin to become itchy and dry.

Blurred Vision

Blurred vision occurs because of the change of sugar, or glucose, in your blood. Vision changes also happen because of the varying levels of fluids in your body throughout the day. For example, you may notice your eyes slightly swell up. You may also notice that you struggle to focus while looking at something.

Slow-Healing Sores

Slow-healing sores are caused by nerve damage created by poor blood circulation throughout your body. This nerve damage makes it hard for your body to properly heal from normal wounds, such as a scratch, cut, burn, or infection. White blood cells don’t function as well either from impairment. Examples would include experiencing foot ulcers or a cut that won’t heal. People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing a bacterial infection from a wound. You may also have inflamed or infected gums.

Yeast Infections

Yeast infections can happen in both men and women, despite this being more commonly associated with women. Due to the increased amount of glucose in the body, which yeast feeds on, the yeast has an ideal environment for growth. Therefore, these infections typically happen where there is warmth or moisture, such as under the breasts, between folds of skin, between fingers and toes, and in or around sex organs.

Pain or Numbess in Legs or Feet

Pain or numbness in your legs or feet is caused by nerve damage. If you are experiencing this symptom, then it is very likely that you have already experienced some or many of the other symptoms listed.

Ketones in Urine

The presence of ketones in your urine indicates high blood sugar levels. Ketones are an alternative fuel that your body makes when there is not enough sugar to use for energy. Combined with high blood sugar levels, ketones in your urine can be a sign of ketoacidosis, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. You can quickly test at home for ketones using urine test strips, available over the counter at most drugstores. Unless you follow a strict keto diet (ketogenic diet), ketones in your urine cause immediate concern.

How do I Know if I Have Diabtes?

One of the many difficult tasks that health professionals have is determining what may be wrong with someone based on their symptoms. Due to many diseases and illnesses having the same symptoms, it can be challenging to determine which one is the culprit behind the symptoms you are experiencing.

To help put these symptoms into context, here are three real-life examples of individuals and families walking through this process. Perhaps your situation is similar to one of these scenarios, which may help you make an important decision to visit your doctor for a diagnosis.

Scenario 1 - Kenadie

When my daughter Kenadie was 2 1/2 years old, we noticed that she was drinking A LOT!! She was drinking considerably more than her siblings. I vividly remember telling my teaching partner this and him saying, “You know what that could mean, don’t you?” Not having any connection to diabetes (no relative or friend having it), I could honestly answer no. Then he told me it could mean diabetes.

Kenadie was taken to the doctor the next day and was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection.  She did not see our regular physician, and we were so thankful that’s all it was. She was put on medication, and we thought that would be the end of it. However, she wasn’t improving, and she began to tire more easily.

A week after her urinary tract infection diagnosis, her dad took her back to see our regular physician. That doctor took one look at her and knew exactly what it was – Type 1 Diabetes. Unfortunately, I was out of town at my nephews’ soccer games when I received the call. I needed to get home right away as we needed to get Kenadie to the children’s hospital immediately. Doctors and nurses would be waiting for us when we got there.

I remember watching her as we drove the 45 minutes to the hospital. She was extremely lethargic. It was terrifying, and we could not get there fast enough. Once we were at the hospital, however, we knew we were in a good place. The wonderful doctors and nurses helped us learn how our new normal would be, and we will be forever grateful for their help.

Scenario 2 - Alan

At the age of 18, I had recently graduated high school, and after a nice summer of freedom, I began college with a plan of becoming a firefighter. I also picked up a graveyard shift job to fit with my class schedule.

Within the first few weeks of this new life routine, I developed a strangely persistent dry mouth and excessive thirst. It was pretty mild at the beginning. After this continued for more than a week, I searched for these symptoms online. Full of unrealized future irony, I saw that one cure for dry mouth was to suck on hard candy to stimulate saliva. Needless to say, this didn’t help, and those symptoms persisted. 

Over the next week, I also had a diminishing appetite and energy with borderline narcolepsy, where I could barely stay awake during my classes at school. Still, these symptoms were not so alarming that I felt I had to go to the doctor. I had little appetite for typical food, but I rabidly craved sweet liquids like smoothies. 

Then one day, a smoothie was the last straw, as I projectile vomited it out right after finishing it. I remember being confused at the sudden nausea. Then looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, I noticed that the whites of my eyes had become yellow. I had also lost 15 pounds from my already thin body. I finally gave in against my stubbornness to avoid the doctor and let my mom take me into urgent care. It took them very little time to diagnose me, confirming the diagnosis with a blood sugar reading of 680.

It was around one month from the first feeling of a dry mouth until I was sitting in the ER being educated about counting carbs and injecting insulin. Even after the symptoms I had, the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes came as a complete shock to my family and me. I was an active and healthy kid growing up, and I would never have expected this in my lifetime.

Scenario 3 - Dana

At the age of 40, I lived a relatively healthy life, was moderately active, and ate mostly healthy. However, I noticed exercising was becoming more difficult, and I was getting tired quicker than usual. Eventually, I started to get incredibly tired during the day. Never being one to take naps, I found myself sneaking in naps during the weekends and holidays, usually after lunch. At first, they were short naps and then eventually became longer. I attributed these symptoms to getting older and didn’t think much of them.

Several months later, I started to feel hungry more often, which led to eating between meals. A few weeks later, I started to get a dry mouth and felt thirsty more than usual. I then started drinking more water, which led to more frequent urination. Within a week or two, I developed an unquenchable thirst. No matter how much water I drank, I still felt thirsty. Around this time, I lost 15-20 pounds in a month without changing diet or exercise.

Knowing something was wrong, I contacted my doctor. Although nobody in my family history has diabetes, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I was able to effectively reverse my type 2 diabetes by making diet and lifestyle changes. After four years, however, I found that my blood sugar increased despite remaining strict with lifestyle changes. As a result, a diabetes specialist ordered blood tests, including pancreatic autoantibodies and c-peptide. With the results of this blood work, my doctor correctly diagnosed me with LADA diabetes (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults).

What Should I Do if I Suspect I have Diabetes?

Contact your doctor and tell them the symptoms you’re experiencing. They’ll likely do a blood draw for your HbA1c. This test lets you know your average blood sugar level for the last two to three months. The higher this number is, the greater you are at risk of developing diabetes complications. Most doctors will order blood work every three months to keep an eye on your blood sugar. So what are normal HbA1c ranges?

Non-Diabetic HbA1c Ranges

According to the ADA, For a person without diabetes, a percentage of less than 5.7 is normal. If you fall in the 5.7-6.5%, you have prediabetes. Follow our guide for reversing type 2 diabetes, which can also eliminate prediabetes. If you have an HbA1c of 6.5% or higher, you have diabetes and should seek medical help to determine which type of diabetes you have and the proper course of action.

Diabetic HbA1c Ranges

Your doctor will derive a plan with recommendations for what your HcA1c should be. Typically, someone with diabetes will have higher HbA1c levels than someone without diabetes. That being said, your doctor may want you in the prediabetes range. Consult your doctor to determine your personal goals.

Diagnosis of Diabetes

If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and are between the ages of 20-40, we strongly suggest requesting your doctor run a blood test for pancreatic autoantibodies and a c-peptide test. This blood work is one of the tests used to determine LADA or type 1.5 diabetes. LADA often begins with symptoms mimicking type 2 diabetes, and, as a result, is often misdiagnosed. 

If you receive a prediabetes or type 2 diabetes diagnosis, the best course of action is to reverse the disease without medication. Making certain lifestyle changes makes it possible to get your blood sugar levels to a safe level within just a few weeks.

If you have diabetes, you are not alone! Total Diabetes Wellness strongly urges you to take action and start taking control of your health and working towards reversing diabetes.