7 Symptoms Never to Ignore If You Have Diabetes

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  • Thirty million Americans have diabetes, a disease characterized by high blood sugar levels. Some have type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas fails to make insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels. Most people have type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body no longer effectively responds to insulin.

    Diabetes is a chronic disease that can affect every system of the body. Knowing the symptoms of diabetes complications can help you stay healthy and active as you manage the disease.

  • 1
    Disorientation
    disoriented African American senior male with head in hands

    The primary problem in diabetes is high blood sugar. However, too-low blood sugar can be dangerous also. Disorientation and confusion are symptoms of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Other symptoms of hypoglycemia include slurred speech, dizziness and a shaky or jittery feeling. Prompt treatment of hypoglycemia is necessary to prevent diabetic coma, a potentially fatal complication of diabetes. If you feel “off,” check your blood sugar. If it’s less than 70 mg/dl, eat something or drink half a cup of juice. If your symptoms don’t improve within 15 minutes, eat and drink a bit more.

  • 2
    Chest pain
    Man with chest pain

    People who have diabetes are twice as likely to die of a heart attack or stroke as people who don’t have diabetes. Chest pain can be a sign of decreased blood flow to the heart, or a heart attack in process, and the sooner you get medical attention, the better your chance of recovery. Call 911 immediately if you develop chest pain or pressure that lasts more than a few minutes, or comes and goes.

  • 3
    Numbness or tingling in the feet
    Caucasian man holding left foot while sitting on floor

    Diabetes can damage the nerves in your hands and feet. This nerve damage (called diabetic neuropathy or peripheral neuropathy) can be annoying and painful, and may make it difficult to notice and respond to injuries. Periodic medical assessment of your hands and feet is a good idea, and various prescription medications can ease diabetic nerve pain.

    If you suddenly develop numbness or tingling, call 911. Numbness, tingling, weakness and difficulty with movement can also be a sign of a stroke.

  • 4
    Open sores
    unidentified hand holding woman's foot up

    Diabetes disrupts blood flow, which can cause poor wound healing. Open wounds are susceptible to infection, and in people with diabetes, can develop gangrene, which destroys the tissue. Gangrene is a common cause for amputation. Inspect your feet and limbs daily. If you notice any sores that do not heal within a few days—or any signs of infection, such as redness, pus or a foul odor—call your healthcare provider. Prompt medical attention can help you avoid amputation. 

  • 5
    Blurry vision
    Woman rubbing eyes

    Diabetes affects the blood supply and nerves of the eyes, which can lead to temporary or permanent loss of vision. Marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels interfere with the eye’s ability to focus. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when blood vessels leak deep in the retina, the back part of the eye; without treatment, the disease can progress to blindness.

    Diabetes increases the risk of other eye complications too, including cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachment, and macular edema. Report any vision changes, including spots or “floaters” in your visual field, to your healthcare provider right away.

  • 6
    Urinating more or less than usual
    sign for public restroom

    Urinary frequency and leakage can be due to diabetes-related damage to the nerves that supply the bladder. Urinating more than eight times a day or more than two times per night is a symptom of overactive bladder. Medical treatment can help you decrease the number of times you need to void so you can enjoy your life.

    Diabetes-related complications may also cause you to urinate less than usual. In some people, nerve damage causes urinary retention; the body isn’t able to effectively expel urine. Diabetes is also the leading cause of kidney disease.

  • 7
    Fruity-smelling breath
    African American woman drinking glass of water

    Normally, the body burns glucose (“blood sugar”) for energy. If the body can’t produce, or isn’t given, enough insulin to use glucose for fuel, the body burns fat instead. This process leads to a buildup of acids called ketones in the blood. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious complication of diabetes that requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include fruity-smelling breath, excessive thirst, nausea and vomiting, frequent urination, and confusion. If you notice any of these symptoms, call 911. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Jun 4
  1. About Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/diabetes.html
  2. Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/low-blood-glucose-hypoglycemia
  3. Diabetes, Heart Disease and Stroke. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke
  4. Diabetic Neuropathy. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/nerve-damage-diabetic-neuropathies
  5. Peripheral Neuropathy. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/neuropathy/peripheral-neuropathy.html
  6. Steps to Prevent or Delay Nerve Damage. American Diabetes Association http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/neuropathy/steps-to-prevent-or-delay.html
  7. Diabetes and Foot Problems. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/foot-problems
  8. Diabetic Eye Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/diabetic-eye-disease
  9. Facts About Diabetic Eye Disease. National Eye Institute. https://nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy
  10. Diabetic Kidney Disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/diabetic-kidney-disease
  11. Diabetes & Sexual & Urologic Problems. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/sexual-urologic-problems
  12. Diabetic Ketoacidosis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetic-ketoacidosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20371551?p=1
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