7 Type 2 Diabetes Symptoms That Are So Subtle, You Might Miss Them

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a close up of a logo: Type 2 diabetes symptoms, such as increased urination and thirst, fatigue, and blurred vision, sometimes sneak into your life in a way that makes them tough to notice.© Xuanyu Han – Getty Images
Type 2 diabetes symptoms, such as increased urination and thirst, fatigue, and blurred vision, sometimes sneak into your life in a way that makes them tough to notice.

In 2015, 30.2 million American adults had diabetes, but only 23 million knew they had it, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How can you be living with diabetes and not know it? Easy: Oftentimes you are totally asymptomatic.

“Either someone has no symptoms at all, or the symptoms are not causing that much difference” from what is normal for them, says Cleveland Clinic endocrinologist Leann Olansky, MD.

This often happens because type 2 diabetes is caused by elevated levels of blood sugar, and if your blood sugar levels rise slowly over time, you may not have or notice symptoms, explains David Nathan, MD, director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center.

However, there are warning signs you can be aware of that may indicate you have type 2 diabetes. If you experience any of the following symptoms, see your doctor. “It’s important to get diagnosed as early as possible, not only because of the risk of microvascular complications [nerve, kidney, and retina damage] but also the risk of heart disease” associated with type 2 diabetes, Dr. Olansky says. “A major killer of people with diabetes is heart disease.”

Increased thirst and urination

“When your blood sugar goes up, it goes into your urine, and the sugar draw more fluid with it” so you tend to produce more urine, Dr. Nathan explains. This means more frequent trips to the bathroom, excreting large volumes of urine at a time, and consequent dehydration. People often notice this symptom as they tend to get up more often during the night to use the bathroom.

Weight loss

Although not everyone experiences weight loss, this can occur because you don’t have enough insulin to keep your blood sugars under control, and insulin is anabolic, says Dr. Olansky, explaining, “It helps keep muscle and fat mass intact.”

Fatigue

High blood sugar in and of itself is linked with fatigue, Dr. Olanksy says, and sleep disruption from frequently urinating at night can make this worse. Type 2 diabetes may also cause fatigue because your body has a hard time using sugar as a source of energy.

Blurred vision

“Many organs are permeable to glucose,” Dr. Nathan explains. “When blood sugar goes up, it gets transported into the lens of the eye, causing it to swell. This changes the refraction of the lens so it doesn’t focus as well.” It can be particularly hard to focus on things at a distance, Dr. Olanksy adds.

Tingling, numb, or painful feet or hands

Known as diabetic neuropathy, this condition happens due to nerve damage. “When glucose is high, it gets into tissues that aren’t responsive to insulin. One is the lens of the eye, and one is the cells that wrap around the nerves,” Dr. Olansky explains. When this happens in the nerves, it causes damage, which leads to problems in nerve signaling.

Yeast infections

Although researchers aren’t quite sure why, women with type 2 diabetes tend to have more frequent yeast infections. “Sugar in the tissues may decrease the ability to fight yeast, causing it to overgrow,” Dr. Nathan says.

Increased hunger

When your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or use it effectively to transport sugar into your cells, your muscles and organs lose energy, causing you to seek out calories for energy. 

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