The warning signs of type 2 diabetes

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 7 million Americans are walking around right now with diabetes -- and they don't even know it. That's because you can live for years with the disease and not experience a single type 2 diabetes symptom.

"For many people who have type 2, they really won't have any of the classic warning signs of diabetes. Those are more common with type 1," said Nora Saul, Certified Diabetes Educator and Nutrition Manager at Harvard University's Joslin Diabetes Center. "For many type 2 diabetes patients, the disease is detected during a routine screening at their annual physical exam."

Diabetes (technically called diabetes mellitus) is a serious disease in which your blood carries too much sugar (glucose). When you eat, your body turns most of that food into glucose to fuel its cells. Normally the pancreas releases insulin after you eat in order to help move that glucose into your cells so they can use it for energy. When you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn't use insulin effectively, which allows glucose to build up in the bloodstream. This overabundance of glucose in the bloodstream can cause serious consequences, such as blindness, heart disease and limb amputation.

Ten warning signs of type 2 diabetes

Although you can live with type 2 diabetes for years without realizing it, many people do experience at lease one symptom of the disease before they're diagnosed. The key warning signs include the following:

  1. Excessive thirst
  2. Frequent urination
  3. Unexplained weight loss
  4. Extreme hunger, especially soon after eating
  5. Sudden vision changes
  6. Slow-healing cuts or sores
  7. Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  8. Unexplained or frequent infections
  9. Extreme fatigue
  10. Very dry skin that's not affected by the season

"It's worth noting that fatigue and dry skin, on their own, can be attributed to many causes that have nothing to do with diabetes," Saul said. "But if you have them in combination with other warning signs, then that would be something to check out."

In a high-risk group? Keep a close eye on the warning signs

In addition to the warning signs mentioned above, you should understand the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Many people think only obese people get diabetes, and while being overweight does increase your risk of developing the disease, it's certainly not the only risk factor. If you fall into any of these groups and experience the symptoms mentioned above, you should immediately consult your doctor:

  • Over age 60
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Obese
  • Sedentary
  • African-American, Hispanic/Latino, or American Indian

Even if you have no warning signs, ask your doctor to be screened for diabetes if you fall into one of the risk factor groups. A simple blood test can set your mind at ease and help you catch the disease early, when treatment options are most effective.

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