How to recognise type 2 diabetes symptoms

Learning to recognise type 2 diabetes symptoms could help you secure an early diagnosis and begin treatment sooner. This is important, because type 2 diabetes can have a serious impact on your health.

It’s also critical because type 2 diabetes is very common. Over 77 million Indians have diabetes – And almost 50% of them don’t know it.

Here’s what you need to know to recognise type 2 diabetes symptoms and work out if you may be a type 2 diabetic:

How do type 2 diabetes symptoms happen?

To recognise type 2 diabetes symptoms it’s important to first understand a few things:

  1. Type 2 diabetes doesn’t happen suddenly – The symptoms often develop gradually over time.
  2. Some symptoms may be temporary, while others may be more persistent.

Type 2 diabetes symptoms are caused by an abnormal level of glucose (a type of sugar) in your blood. This happens when your body can’t effectively break down glucose into energy – Either because your body isn’t producing enough insulin (a hormone that controls sugar processing) or your cells aren’t responding to it properly and have become ‘insulin resistant’.

If you don’t treat type 2 diabetes, the build-up of glucose in your blood can lead to circulatory, nervous and immune system disorders.

What are type 2 diabetes symptoms and signs?

Many people with type 2 diabetes are asymptomatic and for many years have no signs of the disease. When symptoms do start to appear, often type 2 diabetes is characterized by:

  • frequent urination (polyuria) – As glucose builds up in your blood, your kidneys work harder to try and remove it. The excess glucose is pushed into your urine, so you urinate more.
  • increased thirst (polydipsia) – As you urinate more, you dehydrate your body. This will usually make you thirsty.
  • increased hunger (polyphagia) – Because you’re not absorbing sugar effectively your body feels it needs more. This will cause you to feel hungrier than normal.
  • weight loss – As your body can’t break down glucose into energy it will look for alternative sources. It will break down muscle and fat instead, and this can cause weight loss.
  • fatigue – Because you aren’t getting energy from glucose, which would typically be your main energy source, type 2 diabetes will often make you feel tired and exhausted all the time.
  • blurred vision – If you have a high blood sugar level for a long time it can cause the lens of your eyes to swell and damage blood vessels. This can lead to vision problems.
  • slow-healing sores – A high blood sugar level weakens your immune system. This will affect your body’s ability to fight infections and make wounds slower to heal.

Less common symptoms of type 2 diabetes

While most people experience the same type 2 diabetes symptoms, some people develop less common symptoms.

Less common symptoms you should also look out for include:

  • dark patches of skin – This condition appears mainly around the neck and other areas where your skin creases, such as armpits or around your groin. It’s more likely to affect people with darker skin and is believed to be caused by skin cells replicating quickly because of excess insulin in the blood.
  • yeast infections – Yeast feeds on sugar, so if you have a high blood sugar level it can increase your chances of developing yeast infections.
  • itchy or discoloured skin – If you have a high blood sugar level and also high cholesterol and triglycerides (types of fats) you may develop itchy, yellow-coloured bumps on your back, face and buttocks. This is because with low insulin levels your body finds it harder to break down fat. This can cause the fat to collect under the skin and form bumps.
  • lightheadedness – Dizziness is usually a sign of low blood sugar. However, having a high blood sugar level for a long time can dehydrate you, and this can also make you lightheaded.
  • sexual dysfunction – If you have a high blood sugar level for a long time it can lead to sexual problems. In men, a high blood sugar level can cause nerve and blood vessel damage making it difficult to achieve an erection. In women, it can cause reduced lubrication, desire and arousal.

Type 2 diabetes low blood sugar symptoms

Because type 2 diabetes is caused by your body not having enough insulin, or not responding to it well enough, most symptoms you’ll experience are caused by high blood sugar. However, as a type 2 diabetic there may also be times when your blood sugar level is too low (a.k.a. hypoglycemia). This will present type 2 diabetes low blood sugar symptoms.

Common type 2 diabetes low blood sugar symptoms include:

  • confusion,
  • dizziness,
  • feeling faint,
  • heart palpitations,
  • rapid heartbeat,
  • shakiness,
  • sweating, chills, or clamminess,
  • irritability,
  • sudden changes in mood,
  • loss of consciousness,
  • and seizures.

Do different age groups have different type 2 diabetes symptoms?

Type 2 diabetes usually appears in adults who are middle-aged or older – It’s also known as adult-onset diabetes.

However, as obesity can put people at greater risk of developing diabetes, and the level of obesity is increasing in children, type 2 diabetes is now being diagnosed in younger people.

Whatever age you’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes though, the symptoms are typically the same.

Type 2 diabetes weight loss symptom

Weight loss is a common symptom of type 2 diabetes. It’s caused by having a high blood glucose level for a long time and there are two reasons this will lead you to lose weight:

  1. A high blood glucose level can make you urinate a lot. This will dehydrate you, which can cause weight loss.
  2. As your body can’t break down glucose into energy, it will break down muscle and fat instead. Losing both muscle and fat will cause unhealthy weight loss.

Unexplained weight loss is an early sign of type 2 diabetes, and recognising it quickly can often lead to an early diagnosis, helping you manage your disease sooner and more effectively.

Type 2 diabetes diagnosis

To make a type 2 diabetes diagnosis a doctor will need to monitor your blood glucose level. To do this, they will typically advise you to take an A1C test (a.k.a. HbA1c).

An A1C test is a blood test that looks at the amount of glucose present in your haemoglobin (the protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen). By measuring the amount of glucose in your haemoglobin a doctor can determine your average blood glucose level over the last two to three months.

HbA1c level Result
Below 5.7% Normal
5.7 - 6.4% Prediabetic
Over 6.5% Diabetic

If you can’t take an A1C test, either because it’s unavailable or you have a condition that may interfere with the test, your doctor may advise you to take an alternative test. Alternative tests include:

  • fasting blood glucose test – You’ll fast overnight and then have a blood sample taken in the morning.
  • random glucose test – Your blood glucose level can be measured at any time and checked to see if it is excessively high.
  • Oral glucose tolerance test – You’ll fast overnight then drink a sugary liquid in the morning at the doctor’s office. Your blood glucose level will then be monitored for roughly two hours to see if it increases and then remains very high.

What now - What to do if you have type 2 diabetes symptoms?

The first thing to do if you have type 2 diabetes symptoms is to see your doctor. If you do have type 2 diabetes, the earlier it can be diagnosed the better.

If you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes, or your doctor diagnoses you as prediabetic or diabetic, you should look to adjust your lifestyle. The sooner you can eliminate unhealthy habits and improve your lifestyle, the better your chances of avoiding type 2 diabetes, reducing the severity of your symptoms, or maybe even reversing it.

Here are some tips to effectively manage and treat your type 2 diabetes and live a longer, healthier, complication-free life:

  • Eat fresh and healthy – Make sure you follow a healthy, balanced diet that includes fresh vegetables and lean proteins (whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits).
  • Exercise – Keeping fit is good for both your physical and mental health. It’s also a great way to lose weight, and this is important as obesity is a high-risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
  • Spend time outside – Getting out and about can help you exercise, get fresh air, and spend some time in the sun. Sunshine will also stimulate your body to produce vitamin D, which you need for general health and wellbeing.
  • Be social – Social activities are good for mental health, and can help you build a support network as you manage your diabetes. Find activities you enjoy and can share with friends and family.
  • Talk to your doctor – Your doctor or diabetes educator will have resources available to help you with your disease. Make sure you connect with them and have access to everything you need to efficiently manage your type 2 diabetes.
  • Understand your treatment options – If you need medications to treat your type 2 diabetes make sure you understand how they work and when you should take them.
  • Connect with other type 2 diabetics – Type 2 diabetes isn’t a solo condition, lots of people have it. And when you connect with other type 2 diabetics, and join a community, you gain access to their knowledge and experience. You’ll also find a group of people who understand and know what you’re going through and can lend you emotional support as and when you need it.

Frequently asked questions - Type 2 diabetes symptoms

What are the symptoms of diabetes type 2 in adults?

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The typical symptoms of diabetes type 2 in adults are frequent urination, increased thirst, increased hunger, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, and slow-healing wounds. If you have any of these symptoms you should consult with your doctor.

What is type 2 diabetes characterized by?

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Type 2 diabetes is characterized by the body being unable to either produce enough insulin or use insulin as effectively as it should (this is known as insulin resistance). When the body can't produce enough insulin or is insulin resistant, this can lead to glucose building up in the bloodstream. Over time, this can cause serious health issues.

Can you get ketones with type 2 diabetes?

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Yes, it's possible to get ketones with type 2 diabetes. If your body doesn't have enough insulin to break down sugar into energy, it will break down fat instead. When the body breaks down fat for energy, this can lead to ketones being released into the bloodstream. So, if you have type 2 diabetes and aren't managing your blood sugar levels properly, you may be at risk of getting ketones.

With type 2 diabetes, is weight loss a symptom?

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Yes, weight loss can be a symptom of type 2 diabetes. If your body doesn't have enough insulin to break down sugar into energy, either because it's not producing enough insulin or your cells aren't responding to it well enough, your body breaks down fat and muscle instead. This can cause weight loss.

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