15 Subtle Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes Lurking in Plain Sight
These serious symptoms of diabetes should never be ignored.
Of the more than 30 million Americans who have diabetes, up to 95 percent have type 2, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This chronic condition affects the way your body metabolizes sugar (glucose): According to the Mayo Clinic, "your body either resists the effects of insulin—a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into your cells—or doesn't produce enough insulin." So, how can you tell if your body is suffering from type 2 diabetes? To help you know the warning signs, we've rounded up some of the subtle type 2 diabetes symptoms to be aware of, according to doctors and research. If you suspect something is off with your blood sugar levels, it's time to get checked out!
After all, maintenance, management, and medication are all essential when it comes to type 2 diabetes; if left untreated, it can lead to everything from heart disease to kidney damage, and these effects are irreversible. Obviously, early detection is crucial and armed with this knowledge, you'll know what to look out for!
Loss of taste
Do you find yourself reaching for the salt and hot sauce more than usual nowadays? Believe it or not, this could be a sign that your body is resisting the effects of insulin. "Seventy percent of people with diabetes have subtle dysfunctions in smell and taste," notes Meg McElroy, MS, PA-C, a certified physician assistant and co-founder of the Center for Collaborative Medicine in Austin, Texas. "The need for more salt, sugar, or spices on food can be a sign."
Since this diabetes symptom can also be indicative of Alzheimer's and nutrient deficiencies, McElroy suggests talking to a health care practitioner to determine the cause of your loss of taste.
Don't immediately assume that vision issues warrant a trip to the optometrist. According to practicing physician Nikola Djordjevic, MD, co-founder of LoudCloudHealth, when diabetes is left unmanaged, it can have an impact on your eyesight.
Specifically, some of the eye problems that can be caused by diabetes include swelling of the eye lenses, weakened blood vessels, and damage to the retina, according to health care provider Kaiser Permanente. "Undiagnosed diabetes can permanently affect your vision, so it's critically important to catch it in its early stages before it's too late," Djordjevic says.
Formation of skin tags
"The formation of skin tags (called fibroepithelial papillomas) is connected to insulin resistance and people with diabetes are far more likely to develop them," notes Kelly Bay, DC, CNS, CDN, a New York-based certified dietitian, nutrition specialist, and functional medicine specialist. These skin tags can also indicate other issues like Rabson-Mendenhall syndrome, though, so make sure you get them checked out by a dermatologist.
Dark patches on the skin
These patches, which are the telltale sign of a skin condition known as acanthosis nigricans, "look like a darkened, velvet-like hyperpigmentation of the skin" and are "most often found on the neck, under the armpit, and in the groin," says Bay. According to the Mayo Clinic, insulin resistance is the leading cause of acanthosis nigricans, so make sure to watch out for these dark patches if you're worried that you're on the path to type 2 diabetes.
In the wintertime or as you get older, dry skin is a normal thing to deal with. However, if you feel like your skin is especially dry and that nothing you do helps, you might want to consult your physician instead of your dermatologist.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), "extremely dry, itchy skin" is one of the common skin symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes. Other skin issues to watch out for include raised bumps, blisters, and thickening patches of skin.
"If you are not thinking clearly, have difficulty concentrating, or feel as if your brain is cloudy, this is a sign that you may be living with type 2 diabetes," note Cyrus Khambatta, PhD, and Robby Barbaro, MPH, co-founders of the Mastering Diabetes Method and co-authors of Mastering Diabetes. Indeed, one 2019 study published in The Egyptian Journal of Neurology, Psychiatry and Neurosurgery found that amongst diabetic patients who experienced psychological problems, more than 51 percent "sometimes" had difficulty concentrating and 20 percent "always" did.
Another psychosomatic symptom that some diabetes patients experience is heart palpitations. In the same 2019 study from The Egyptian Journal of Neurology, Psychiatry and Neurosurgery, researchers found that 26 percent of diabetic subjects without psychological symptoms and 46 percent of those with psychological problems "sometimes" experienced a pounding heart sensation.
Further, an earlier study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in 2010 determined that people with diabetes have a 40 percent greater risk of developing atrial fibrillation, or a chronically irregular heartbeat.
Over time, high blood sugar levels can impact circulation and make it difficult for blood to reach injured areas that need it in order to heal. That's why one of the type 2 diabetes symptoms that you should always be on the lookout for is slow-healing wounds. "High blood glucose levels prevent nutrients and oxygen from getting to damaged cells, negatively impacting your immune system and increasing inflammation," Khambatta and Barbaro explain.
Board-certified podiatrist and foot surgeon Bruce Pinker, DPM, AACFAS, FAPWCA notes that he often sees diabetes patients with "sores or bruises or cuts on the lower extremities that are slow to heal."
Numbness in the feet
"In the feet, we find [type 2 diabetes] patients with numbness, burning, and tingling," says Pinker. That's because diabetes can cause diabetic neuropathy, which is a type of nerve damage caused by high blood sugar levels.
The good news? According to Pinker, "there are various ways to address diabetic peripheral neuropathy." Though the condition isn't curable, the Mayo Clinic notes that prescription medications and other alternative medicines are available in order to help relieve the pain associated with this nerve damage.
Excessive thirst is one of the most common type 2 diabetes symptoms. With type 2 diabetes, the kidneys are forced to work overtime in order to get rid of the excess glucose in the bloodstream. As a result, patients become dehydrated, which leaves them parched practically 24/7.
If you find yourself going to the bathroom more than usual, you may have type 2 diabetes to blame. "Increased urination … is one of the first symptoms I see in my insulin-resistant patients," says Bay. "This is commonly accompanied with increased thirst and hunger."
It's easy to brush off fatigue as nothing serious, seeing as the majority of us hardly get enough shut eye. However, you should pay attention if you're constantly on the cusp of falling asleep, seeing as this is a tell-tale type 2 diabetes symptom. One 2011 review published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research specifically notes that "fatigue is a common and distressing complaint among people with diabetes."
It might sound strange, but if you're worried about having diabetes, then you should ask your significant other if they've noticed any changes in how your breath smells. JRDF, an organization that funds diabetes research, notes that people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes often experience "fruity or sweet-smelling breath" due to high levels of organic compounds called ketones.
Oral health issues are relatively common in people with diabetes–and there's a reason why. Per the Cleveland Clinic, uncontrolled diabetes weakens white blood cells, and these are the body's primary defense against oral bacterial infections. If you find yourself experiencing gingivitis, AKA inflamed gums, talk to your doctor about potentially getting your blood sugar levels checked.
If you constantly feel like there are cotton balls in your mouth, then you might want to schedule an appointment with your physician because one of the more subtle type 2 diabetes symptoms is dry mouth. As the Cleveland Clinic explains, "uncontrolled diabetes can decrease saliva flow, resulting in dry mouth."