Don’t ignore the early signs of diabetes

Preventing diabetes means acting early and knowing the signs to look for before it turns into a serious problem.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a long-term health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.

“Diabetes is a disruption in the way your body uses insulin,” said Tina Canada, RN, a certified diabetes educator at OSF HealthCare.

Food is broken down into sugar and released into the bloodstream, which signals the pancreas to release insulin. There are two types of diabetes one where a person with diabetes doesn’t create enough insulin called Type 1 and another where your body doesn’t respond like it is supposed to with insulin called Type 2. Both can leave too much sugar in the bloodstream.

Signs of diabetes

“The typical symptoms of diabetes are really easy to ignore,” Tina said.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five people with diabetes doesn’t even know they have it.

Don’t miss something important. Look out for the symptoms of diabetes.

Frequent urination

Frequent urination is one of the key indicators of diabetes. When there is too much sugar in the blood, your kidneys are forced to work harder to get rid of the excess sugar. The kidneys produce more urine to get the extra sugar out of the body. Thus, needing to use the bathroom a lot can be the first indication of diabetes.

Dry mouth and excessive thirst

Dry mouth and excessive thirst go hand in hand with frequent urination. You might think, “It’s hot,” or “I just haven’t had enough water today.” That’s a normal part of life. But if it’s a constant thirst or combined with the need to urinate frequently, it might be your body’s way of saying that you’re not producing enough insulin.

Dry skin

With diabetes, skin moisture can be hard to balance. If you notice your skin is dried out, especially your feet, look out for other symptoms of diabetes.

Slow-healing wounds

Experiencing any of these symptoms?

> Contact your physician

The higher blood sugar content in a person with diabetes can interfere with the body’s ability to heal wounds. This can be especially dangerous if you have undiagnosed diabetes, as diabetes can cause nerve damage. With damaged nerves, it’s harder to feel when an affected area of the body has a cut, scrape or blister. Since it’s harder to know when you have a wound, you’re much more likely to develop an infection.

Blurry vision or eye difficulties

Some people notice a problem with their vision, so they go to the eye doctor. After an eye exam, they learn it isn’t an eye problem at all. Blurriness, vision loss or seeing dark spots can indicate diabetes.

Losing weight

Sudden weight loss, especially when you’re not trying to lose weight, is often an indication that something isn’t quite right. It could be nothing, but it could be an early sign of diabetes.

Signs of diabetes in women and men

“Signs of diabetes in men and women tend to be pretty similar,” Tina said.

While many men and women have the same signs – like those listed above – there are a few signs that may be different in men and women.

Women with diabetes are more likely to experience vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections. Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome are also more likely to have diabetes.

Men with diabetes that goes untreated are more likely to experience a loss of muscle mass.

Diabetes risk factors and prediabetes

Certain factors put a person at a higher risk of developing diabetes, including:

  • Aging
  • High blood pressure
  • Being overweight
  • Having a family member with diabetes
  • Having gestational diabetes
  • High-risk ethnicities (American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Hispanic/Latino and non-Hispanic Black)

Knowing your risk for diabetes can help you to stay on top of your health. Doctors encourage anyone who falls into the high-risk category to have glucose testing done before signs of diabetes develop. There’s a benefit to catching it early.

Prediabetes usually precedes a diabetes diagnosis. If you’re able to catch diabetes at this stage, it’s much easier to delay diabetes or avoid getting it altogether.

If you think you may have diabetes, getting your blood checked at your doctor’s office is a good idea.

Controlling or avoiding diabetes

You can help prevent Type 2 diabetes by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Stay on top of your health. If you’re at an increased risk of developing diabetes, visit your health care provider to check your blood glucose levels once or twice a year.

“Increasing your physical activity to 150 minutes a week is one way to stay healthy and either avoid or control diabetes,” Tina said.

That amounts to 30 minutes of activity five days a week. In addition, losing 5-7% of your body weight can help make a difference if you are above your ideal body weight.

Foods to prevent diabetes

Choosing the right foods will help decrease the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. It’s important to start eating a well-rounded diet before diabetes sets in.

Cruciferous vegetables

Leafy, dark green vegetables contain fiber, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins A, C and K, and potassium. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, spinach and cauliflower are good vegetables to incorporate into your diet.


Try lean meats like skinless chicken breasts, lean turkey, salmon, beef sirloin, pork loin, cod, tilapia, halibut, shrimp, crab, lobster and mussels.


Eat fruits high in antioxidants and vitamins, like blueberries, blackberries, apples and oranges.

Whole grains

Swap out processed snacks, like chips and white crackers, for whole grain crackers and popcorn. Skip the white bread and bagels in favor of whole-grain options. And try brown rice and quinoa for a healthier alternative to white rice and pasta.

Last Updated: May 2, 2023

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About Author: Katie Faley

Katie Faley is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in English Studies. Before joining OSF HealthCare in 2021, she worked in magazine editing, digital marketing and freelance writing.
Katie is often found listening to ‘60s folk music, deciding on a new skill to learn, losing track of time in a library or spending time with her family and friends.

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Categories: Diabetes, Preventive Health