Diabetes can sound like a scary word—a condition you might think seems unreachable; a problem you’d never face. But the truth is, 34.2 million Americans have diabetes, and 88 million have prediabetes, according to the 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report. That’s nearly half of the U.S. adult population or about one in two adults living with either diabetes or prediabetes. What’s even more important to note: signs of prediabetes and early signs of diabetes can go unnoticed, which is why about 80% of people with prediabetes don’t even know they have it. That means you could be living with a pancreas working overtime to create insulin, hoping to get your cells to use blood sugar for energy, and you don’t even realize it yet.
The problem with not knowing is eventually, prediabetes can lead to full-on type 2 diabetes. In fact, those living with prediabetes have a 50% chance of developing diabetes over the next five to 10 years, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Prediabetes can up your risk of other health issues too, including stroke and heart disease. Talking to a doctor and getting an early diagnosis plays a key role in stopping the progression of the disease and maybe even reversing it. And getting that early diagnosis means you can start making simple changes to your lifestyle today to help control the disease, says Meghann Moore, RD, MPH, CDCES, certified diabetes care and education specialist, based in Everett, WA.
To help you decide when it’s time to talk to your doctor about getting tested for diabetes, we asked Moore to reveal the most common early signs of diabetes and prediabetes—the symptoms people tend to write off instead of bringing up to their doctors. Here’s what to ask yourself to help you nail down early signs of prediabetes and diabetes.
Did you lose weight suddenly or without trying?
People tend to look at weight loss as a positive thing—whether they’re trying to shed pounds or not. “Because people think this is a good thing, that it’s a positive, they’re not alarmed by it,” Moore says, explaining why people tend to miss dropping scale numbers as an early sign of diabetes. “But if you’re losing weight and not trying to, that might mean you have something going on.” So, if your weight plummets and your lifestyle has remained the same, chat with a medical professional.
Are you super thirsty?
We’re not talking about throwing back a glass of water a few times a day or feeling like you’re in desperate need of a drink while you’re out on a hot day. If you down, say, a liter of a liquid in one sitting, and still feel like you could have more—that’s when you should stop and pay attention, Moore says. She explains that some people come in saying they’ll drink a 32-ounce sports drink and still want more after, and that’s when it’s time to mention it to your doctor.
Do you have to pee often, including in the middle of the night?
We understand, if you’re drinking more fluids and don’t notice those extra beverages are a problem, you’ll likely hit the bathroom more and think it’s from all the drinks. But consider how often you urinate in the middle of the night to determine if it’s a stand-out sign of diabetes. “If you’re waking up multiple times in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom—that’s not a normal thing,” Moore says. “Once a night maybe, but three or four times in an eight-hour period is not.”
Have other people noticed your bad breath?
If a friend or family member noticed you have a sort of sickly sweet, fruity smell to your breath, that could be an early sign of diabetes. While you might not notice it yourself, Moore says, a loved one might call you out on it, and that’s when it can be a cause of concern.
Do you have any of the above symptoms, plus feel tired?
Fatigue can also signal diabetes, but obviously people feel tired for many, many reasons from stress to simply not getting quality sleep. But if you’re feeling sleepy and you answer yes to any of the questions above, it’s definitely time to talk to a doc, Moore says. “It’s likely not fatigue in isolation,” she adds.
Also, consider how you feel after a meal, particularly one filled with carbs like pizza, pasta, or a burger and fries. Do you feel super heavy, sluggish, and extra thirsty? If you have diabetes, your body can’t efficiently use those carbs for energy, Moore says, so instead, they might trigger you to take a nap.
If I notice any of the above signs of diabetes, how do I talk to my doctor about it?
“I would encourage a patient to say, ‘I have this symptom and it’s somewhat unexplained and uncomfortable,’” Moore says. “Be proactive and ask what you want to know when you go to the doctor.”
It’s always a good idea to have a regular physical, as many people don’t present diabetes symptoms, Moore says. You could go for years living with prediabetes and not know it’s slowly progressing, and then test positive for diabetes at your regular appointment. Don’t be afraid to bring up these early signs anytime you talk to your doctor or head in for that check-up. The test is simple, and it could be lifesaving. “The longer someone has uncontrolled diabetes, the higher the risk of complications,” Moore says. To control it, you have to know about it.