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Medical Disorders

Diabetes Symptoms

Jessica Evert, MD, edited by Benjamin McDonald, MD

People with diabetes are always at risk for swings in blood sugar and other related complications. The serious health consequences of these risks can be minimized through careful attention to blood sugar management. If you or a loved one have diabetes it is very important that you become aware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia so that you know when to self-administer medication, or to seek immediate professional medical care. If you have multiple risk factors for diabetes, be aware of the symptoms and visit your physician if you believe you exhibit them.

The classic symptoms of hyperglycemia (too much blood sugar) are

  • frequent and excessive urination
  • excessive thirst
  • greater than normal hunger

Additional symptoms that can accompany hyperglycemia are:

  • loss of appetite which may be accompanied by weight loss
  • fatigue and weakness
  • shortness of breath
  • vision problems
  • skin changes (infections, slowed healing)
  • nerve problems/pain (tingling, shooting or stabbing sensations)
  • impotence (in men)

If left untreated, hyperglycemia can progress into ketoacidosis. Warning signs associated with ketoacidosis include the following:

  • 'fruity' smelling breath
  • nausea and vomiting.
  • stomach cramps
  • mental confusion.

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is accompanied by a similar set of symptoms:

  • headache
  • unsteadiness/dizziness
  • tremor
  • great hunger
  • moodiness
  • clumsiness
  • mental confusion
  • irritability/anxiety

While it is likely that people with diabetes will experience one or more of these symptoms during the course of their illness, it is possible for people to have diabetes and experience only mild symptoms if any are noticeable at all. The above symptoms can be signs that a person has developed diabetes. It is worth consulting with a doctor if you experience any of the symptoms associated with diabetes described above. This is especially true if you are at a higher risk for diabetes (e.g., you are older, overweight, and have a family history of diabetes).