Diabetes Symptoms and Causes

Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes symptoms can be hard to spot because they are not always obvious. Many people do not know they have diabetes until its complications arise.

Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases that negatively affect how your body uses blood sugar and its consequences. Glucose, which provides energy for cells in the muscles and tissues and fuel to the brain, can be harmful if there are high levels within one’s system without being used by these organs first due to diabetes.

The underlying cause of diabetes symptoms is different depending on what type you have. But no matter what type, it can lead to too much sugar in your blood. This can lead to serious health problems.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that insulin injections can only manage. Type 2 diabetes is caused mainly by lifestyle choices and, as such, may be prevented or at least delayed with appropriate interventions. Prediabetes refers to blood sugar levels higher than usual but not high enough for a diagnosis of type 2; this predisposes the individual toward developing full-blown type 2 later on if no measures are taken to reverse it before then.

Gestational Diabetes occurs during pregnancy when hormone changes interfere with how glucose moves through your bloodstream, so even though you might have been able to maintain healthy levels previously, now they spike up, resulting in gestational diabetes, which usually resolves after delivery unless more aggressive management strategies need to apply.

Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes symptoms can vary from person to person. If you have diabetes, it may take a while for your blood sugar to go up. There are different types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes comes on quickly and is more severe than type 2 diabetes.

Some signs and symptoms of type 1 and 2 diabetes are:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme hunger
  • The presence of ketones in urine may be a sign that someone is not producing enough insulin.
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Frequent infections in the mouth, gums, or skin
  • Slow-healing sores

Type 1 diabetes is a severe condition that can develop at any age, often during childhood or adolescence. Type 2 diabetes usually develops in people older than 40 years old and has become much more common over the last few decades due to our lifestyles becoming so sedentary.

When to see a doctor

  • If you suspect diabetes, be sure to take notice of any possible symptoms. Diagnosing the condition early is crucial for your health and well-being.
  • After receiving your diagnosis, it’s essential to be close with a doctor until your glucose levels are stable. Often diabetes can affect people in different ways, and some may require insulin shots or medication for their condition while others do not.

Diabetes Causes

Understanding how glucose is processed in the body can help to understand diabetes.

How insulin works

Insulin is a hormone that comes from the pancreas and helps people with diabetes manage their blood sugar.

  • Insulin decreases the amount of sugar in your bloodstream.
  • The insulin circulates, enabling sugar to enter cells.
  • As your blood sugar level drops, the secretion of insulin from your pancreas also decreases.
  • The pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream.

The role of glucose

Glucose is a sugar that provides energy to cells in muscles and other tissues.

  • When your glucose levels are low, the liver breaks down stored glycogen to make more glucose. This is, so the glucose level stays within a normal range.
  • Glucose comes from two primary sources: food and your liver.
  • Your liver stores and makes glucose.
  • When sugar is in your bloodstream, it enters cells with the help of insulin.

Causes of type 1 diabetes

The causes of type 1 diabetes are unknown. What we do know, though, is that your immune system — which usually fights harmful bacteria or viruses—attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leaving you with little to no insulin. Instead of entering your cells, sugar increases in our bloodstream as a result – making it difficult for us to break down carbohydrates without help from an external source like injected insulin injections.

Causes of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes

In prediabetes, your cells become resistant to the action of insulin, and your pancreas is unable to make enough. Sugar builds up in your bloodstream when it should be moving into cells for energy instead.

Causes of gestational diabetes

During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that increase a woman’s resistance towards insulin and cause her body’s cells to become less receptive to sugar levels due to their ability for glucose regulation.

The pancreas responds by producing extra insulin, but some people can’t keep up with demand, or their body doesn’t produce enough, so when either happens, you may end up having high levels of sugar.

Diabetes Symptoms

Risk factors

Different types of diabetes have other risks.

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes

The exact causes of type 1 diabetes are unknown; some things may increase your risk of developing it. These include:

  • If your parent or other family member has diabetes, your risk of getting it is higher.
  • Environmental factors, such as being exposed to a virus, may put you at risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
  • Having damaging immune system cells (autoantibodies) in the blood can indicate a predisposition to type 1 diabetes. If you have these autoantibodies, you will not be guaranteed to develop type 1 diabetes, but your risk has increased significantly.
  • Some countries, like Finland and Sweden, have much higher rates of type 1 diabetes.

Prediabetes and diabetes risk factors

It is unknown why some people get prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. It’s clear that certain things increase the risk, including:

  • As people gain weight, their cells become resistant to insulin.
  • When you are inactive, your body has a higher risk of getting too much glucose. Physical activity helps you control weight, use glucose as energy, and make your cells more sensitive to insulin.
  • If a parent or sibling develops type 2 diabetes, you are more likely to get it.
  • Different ethnicities and races are at higher risk for getting diabetes. It is unclear why this is, but it does happen. Some of them are Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian American people.
  • Age makes it more likely that you will get diabetes. This is because you might exercise less, lose muscle mass and gain weight as you age. But type 2 diabetes is increasing among children, adolescents, and younger adults too.
  • If you developed gestational diabetes when you were pregnant, your risk of getting type 2 diabetes and prediabetes increases. 
  • Having a baby weighing more than 9 pounds (4 kilograms) increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Women who have polycystic ovary syndrome may develop diabetes. This is because they can have irregular periods, excess hair growth, and obesity.
  • Having a blood pressure of over 140/90 mm Hg is linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
  • If you have low HDL cholesterol or “good” cholesterol, your risk of type 2 diabetes is higher. Triglycerides are another type of fat that can be carried in the bloodstream. People with increased levels of triglycerides have an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Your doctor will let you know what your triglyceride and cholesterol levels are.

Risk factors for gestational diabetes

Pregnant women can get gestational diabetes. Some people are more at risk than others. Risk factors include:

  • If you have prediabetes or a close family member has type 2 diabetes, then your risk of getting type 2 diabetes is higher. If you had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy, delivered an oversized baby, or had an unexplained stillbirth, then your risk of getting type 2 diabetes is also increased.
  • Being overweight before pregnancy increases your chances of getting pregnant.
  • Race or ethnicity is a factor in the development of gestational diabetes, with Black and Hispanic women being more likely to develop it than their counterparts. The reasons for this are not clear, but there seem to be certain genetic predispositions among these minority groups that make them susceptible.
Diabetes Symptoms


Long-term complications of diabetes happen gradually. The longer you have diabetes, and the less controlled your blood sugar, the higher chance of getting a complication. Eventually, you might have difficulties, and they can be disabling or life-threatening. Possible complications include:

  • Cardiovascular disease is when your heart has problems. Diabetes can make your risk of getting this disease higher. You might also have a heart attack, stroke, or narrowing of the arteries. If you have diabetes and problems with your heart, you are more likely to die from these diseases than someone who does not have diabetes.
  • Nerve damage. Excess sugar can injure the walls of your tiny blood vessels that give you nutrients. This can cause tingling, burning, numbness, or pain, which usually begins at your toes and moves to your fingers.
  • If you do not get treatment, you could lose feeling in the affected limb. Your nerves related to digestion can cause problems with your stomach. This can lead to nausea and vomiting, or constipation. Men may also have trouble getting an erection if they do not get treatment.
  • Kidney damage can come from diabetes. Kidneys have many tiny blood vessels that filter waste out of your blood. Diabetes can cause kidney damage, which can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease. You might need dialysis or a transplant if the damage is severe enough.
  • Diabetes can cause eye problems. The blood vessels in the retina could be damaged, and this could lead to blindness. Diabetes also causes other serious vision problems such as cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Foot damage is a significant concern for people with diabetes. Nerve damage and poor blood flow to the feet increase the risk of various foot complications, leading to toe, foot, or leg amputation if left untreated. These infections can develop serious injuries such as cuts and blisters that often heal poorly without intervention by medical professionals.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive degenerative disorder of the brain that causes a significant decline in memory and cognitive function. Type 2 diabetes may increase your risk for Alzheimer’s Disease, but more research needs to be done to see how these two disorders are related.
  • Skin problems. Diabetes can make a person more likely to have skin infections with bacteria or fungus.
  • When you have diabetes, it is more likely that you will have hearing problems.
  • People with diabetes have a higher risk of getting depression. Depression can affect diabetes management.

Complications of gestational diabetes

Most women who have gestational diabetes can expect a healthy baby. However, not treating or managing blood sugar levels may cause problems for you and your infant.

Complications in your baby can occur when you have gestational diabetes. These complications include:

  • Excess growth. Extra glucose can cross the placenta and trigger your baby’s pancreas to make more insulin. This may cause your baby to grow too large. Very large babies are more prone to need a c-section birth.
  • Sometimes, babies who are born to mothers with gestational diabetes can have low blood sugar. This happens because their insulin is elevated. Sometimes an intravenous glucose solution and Prompt feedings can bring the baby’s blood sugar level back to normal.
  • If a mother has gestational diabetes, their baby can also have a higher risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Untreated, gestational diabetes can lead to the death of a baby that is either born too soon or shortly after birth.

Complications in the mother can happen if she has gestational diabetes. These complications include:

  • Preeclampsia is a condition that can lead to problems for both the mother and the baby. It is characterized by high blood pressure, extra protein in the urine, and swelling in the legs and feet. This condition can be severe or life-threatening.
  • If you have gestational diabetes during one pregnancy, you are more likely to get it during the subsequent pregnancy. You are also more likely to develop diabetes later in life, typically type 2.

Complications of prediabetes

People who have prediabetes may develop type 2 diabetes.


Type 1 diabetes is one of those things where prevention remains unavailable; however, it could be possible to delay with the same healthy lifestyle choices for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

  • The way you eat could make or break your weight-loss goals. Eating healthy is a great place to start: focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for high fiber content and less fat; choose foods lower in calories while still enjoying the variety.
  • Get moving! Find time to do moderate aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes a day or 150 more minutes of vigorous exercise in one week.
  • Lose excess pounds to reduce the risk of diabetes. If you’re overweight, losing even 7% – 14 lbs for a 200 lb person- can drastically reduce your chances of developing this disease.

You should not try to lose weight when you are pregnant. Talk to your doctor about how much weight gain is healthy during pregnancy.

To lose weight, focus on your eating habits and exercise. You can think about all the benefits of losing weight, like having a healthier heart, more energy, and feeling better about yourself.

Oral diabetes drugs such as metformin (Fortamet, Glumetza, others) may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. However, healthy lifestyle choices remain essential. Check your blood sugar levels annually to check that you haven’t developed type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes Symptoms Resources

Here are some diabetes symptoms links to further assist with your diabetes planning.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Diabetes Symptoms
Find out the signs and diabetes symptoms of type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.

American Diabetes Association (ADA) – Diabetes Symptoms 
Learn to read the signs your body is giving you that you may have developed type 2 diabetes. Read our list of potential diabetes symptoms to be mindful and proactive.

The Community Guide – Diabetes Prevention and Control
Diabetes symptoms and understanding your risk of developing type 2 diabetes

National Health Service (NHS) – Type 2 diabetes – Symptoms
Read about the diabetes symptoms, including feeling very thirsty, peeing more than usual and feeling tired all the time.

Healthline – Diabetes: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Prevention, and More
Find out everything you need to know about diabetes symptoms here. Get information on type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Discover diabetes symptoms, causes, and risk factors. Learn about the effects that the disease has on children. Also explore how it’s diagnosed, whether it can be prevented, diet, and more.

Medical News Today – Diabetes: Symptoms, treatment, and early diagnosis
Diabetes is a disorder where the body does not produce insulin or does not use it efficiently. While it can lead to dangerous complications, diabetes is manageable. There are different types of diabetes with varying effects. Read on to learn more about diabetes symptoms.

WebMD – Diabetes: Symptoms & Diagnosis
Find out more about diabetes symptoms, causes and treatments for diabetes. Find the latest news in management and diet.

JDRF – Diabetes Symptoms 
What are the early signs and diabetes symptoms? Learn about the types of diabetes, the early symptoms, and whether you should see a doctor.

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