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Spot the tell tale signs of diabetes

Would you know if you had diabetes? A recent ONS survey revealed that about a million adults in England have type 2 diabetes but don’t know it, putting their health at risk. We asked GP and LighterLife’s medical director, Dr Matt Capehorn, to explain the nine most common diabetes symptoms you might experience, to help you recognise the early signs of Type 2 diabetes.

Your Guide to Nine Early Signs of Type 2 Diabetes

1. Sudden weight or muscle loss

Unless it’s controlled weight loss as part of a diet, a sudden drop in your weight may not be a good thing. A drop of more than 5%, or unexplained weight loss of half a stone per month or more for a few months, needs investigating.

In the case of diabetes, it’s much more likely to be associated with type 1 diabetes. Carbohydrates in the food you eat are broken down into glucose (a type of sugar), but the lack of insulin (or, in the case of type 2 diabetes, the body’s resistance to it) results in this glucose not being taken up by the body’s cells, and ultimately it’s lost in your pee.

The energy (calories) in the sugar being peed out is one reason for weight loss, but it’s made worse by the fact that the body may then have to break down fat or even muscle for fuel, making the weight loss more noticeable.

2. Feeling TATT

Feeling tired all the time (or TATT for short) is a very common symptom that could also be due to undiagnosed diabetes. Your body may not be metabolising the sugars in your diet for energy in the correct way, causing chronic tiredness even when sleeping well.

3. Persistent hunger

The feeling of being hungry is complicated. You may be hungry for physiological reasons – when your body is telling you to eat because it’s low on fuel. However, many of us eat when we’re not really hungry – out of habit, or for comfort – and we know that people’s emotional relationship with food is a contributing factor to the growing rates of obesity in our society.

After your evening meal you should be full for 6-8 hours, so if you get the munchies an hour or two later in front of the television, it’s more likely to be psychological hunger or habit. However, if your body isn’t correctly metabolising the sugars you eat, you may be left feeling persistently hungry, so it’s always worth considering speaking to your GP. 

4. Unquenchable thirst

It’s speculated that we in the UK generally don’t drink enough fluids, so we’re living in a state of mild chronic dehydration. On a hot day, after exercise, or after a particularly salty meal, you might feel especially thirsty – all normal and expected. However, it’s not normal to be knocking back the water all of the time and feeling like you can’t ever quench your thirst.

This is a classic symptom of diabetes, but again it’s most likely to be associated with type 1 diabetes. The reason for the thirst is complex, but it can be thought of simply as your kidneys needing the extra fluid to help flush out the excess sugar.

5. Peeing more often

Needing to pass urine much more frequently, perhaps with a degree of urgency, and especially during the night, should always be investigated. It could just be as a result of having drunk too much (especially of bladder stimulants such as caffeine or alcohol).

If it hurts when you pee, you could have a bladder infection, or it could mean that you have an irritable bladder that your doctor may be able to help you manage.

However, it can also be a symptom of more sugar in the blood, increasing the kidney’s role to excrete it, by making us want to pee more often. Having sugar in your urine can mean other problems too, so it’s definitely worth getting it checked.

6. Itchy bits

Most of the time, genital itching is caused by a yeast infection, when the fungus Candida albicans that is naturally present in your vagina grows unchecked. Most women experience it at some point, but if it’s happening regularly, it’s vital to speak to your doctor.

High blood sugar levels provide the perfect conditions for vaginal yeasts to multiply, so an increase in thrush or other yeast infections can occur. Type 2 diabetes can also suppress your immune response, making thrush more likely.

7. Skin disorders

A change in season, temperature, or even shower gel can irritate your skin, but some conditions are closely linked to type 2 diabetes. However, some skin conditions, including acne and recurrent or persistent cysts or other infections, are associated with poor control of blood sugar levels, so they should alert you to the possibility of a diagnosis of diabetes.

8. Cuts that won’t heal

Chronically high blood-glucose levels reduce your immune system’s ability to fight infection, and restrict your circulation so it takes longer for blood vessels to deliver healing substances to a wound. They also damage nerves so you might not be as aware that you’ve hurt yourself because of a lack of sensation.

Plus, an untreated open wound can lead to further health complications – in fact, poorly controlled type 2 diabetes is one the most common causes of amputation in the UK. It’s very easy to accidentally cut yourself but then not notice exactly how long it takes to heal, and yet this can be a good indicator of general cardiometabolic health.

9. Blurred vision

Blurred vision can be caused by damage to the lens inside your eye from high sugar levels, which can also harm the tiny blood vessels in your retina. Most routine optician checks look for damage to those blood vessels, and if any is detected, you’ll need to book a check-up with your doctor. 

Untreated, this eye damage (retinopathy) can lead to blindness, and in adults it’s actually one of the leading causes of sight loss. Unfortunately, in the same way that insulin resistance can have been present for many years before someone is diagnosed with diabetes, the vision damage may have been occurring for some time, too. Spotting the symptoms and getting early treatment can cut the risk of going blind by 95%.

And finally…

The good news is that with early diagnosis and by sticking to a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle plan as recommended by your healthcare providers – whether this is with weight loss or with medication – you can avoid most, if not all, of these nine risk factors of type 2 diabetes.

And that’s where we come in, with a proud record of having helped over 1 million people successfully lose weight and keep it off during the last 35 years. Find out more about our award-winning, science-backed programmes here.