Watching for the warning signs of type 2 diabetes

Written by: Dr David Cavan
Edited by: Emily Lawrenson

Diabetes is on the rise, and is the fastest growing health threat in the UK, with an estimated 4.5 million people living with the condition. In those with diabetes, an estimated 90% have type 2 diabetes, which can cause serious health problems such as vision loss, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, and depression.

Our understanding of how best to manage type 2 diabetes has changed in recent years, with research showing that significant lifestyle changes, and not just medication, can help individuals to take control of their diabetes and possibly even reverse it. While diabetes doesn’t always show symptoms as it develops, it is important to be aware of the warning signs that do sometimes present, as treating and controlling diabetes early on can help to prevent complications, which are often serious in nature. Dr David Cavan, expert diabetes physician and author of Reverse Your Diabetes: The Step-by-Step Plan to Take Control of Type 2 Diabetes talks us through some of the early symptoms of type 2 diabetes, and what you can do to help take control from the very beginning.


How do I know if I have type 2 diabetes?

Recognising the symptoms of type 2 diabetes is not as simple as it sounds – you don’t wake up one day suddenly feeling exhausted, with a terrible temper, and thirsty, but needing to pee all the time. Diabetes doesn’t present itself overnight, and symptoms are both subtle and gradual in nature. Learning how to notice them, and recognising when you should seek medical advice, could very much help an earlier diagnosis, and thus earlier treatment.

Feeling constantly tired

Feeling tired isn’t exactly exclusive to diabetes – we all burn the candle at both ends in our modern, busy lives – but it’s important to pay attention to exactly how long you’ve been feeling tired. Constant fatigue can be an indicator of diabetes, as a result of your body not being able to utilise glucose for energy.    

Being irritable, grumpy, and moody

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body’s cells do not respond well to insulin. This can result in elevated blood glucose levels, which can make you feel generally unwell, both in body and mind. High blood glucose levels can be associated with symtoms that are similar to depression, causing you to feel like you just don’t want to do anything except stay at home and sleep, or feel short-tempered and grumpy. Once blood glucose levels are normalised, these symptoms improve.

Going to the toilet more frequently

With diabetes, there is more glucose in the bloodstream, as a result of the body not being able to take it up into cells to be used for energy. Your body copes with this by flushing out the glucose in urine, which means you may feel that you need to visit the bathroom more frequently. If you drink a lot of fluid to combat this, it may feel like your bathroom trips are a direct result, but a definite red flag is when the need to pee keeps you up at night, or causes you to wake frequently. Usually people wake up only once or twice during the night, so watch how often you’re getting up to go to the loo.

Feeling thirsty

High glucose levels lead to you passing more urine.  This can lead to dehydration that in turn leads to increased thirst.  In this situation it is important to drink water to quench thirst, as drinking sugary drinks just increases the bloodgluocse level still further, causing more urination and more thirst.

Slower healing wounds

The high blood glucose in your system has a direct result on your immune system, which helps your body to heal naturally. This can cause wounds to heal more slowly, or bruises to stick around for longer than usual.

More frequent infections

In women, urinary tract infections and yeast infections can be a sign of diabetes, due to higher levels of glucose in the urine. This increases the level of bacteria and yeast in the vagina, meaning infection is more likely to occur and reoccur. If these infections come back time and time again, your GP may decide that a diabetes check is in order, to rule out the possibility.

Other symptoms of diabetes to watch out for include:

  • Headaches
  • Tingling in hands and feet
  • Blurred vision
  • A dry mouth
  • Weight loss for no particular reason

When should I visit my GP?

If you have a family history of diabetes, or have risk factors for the condition, such as being overweight, it’s best to be checked out on a regular basis. However, if you’ve been feeling under the weather and have experienced some of the symptoms listed for a period of time, it is always best to get yourself checked out and have a simple blood test which can diagnose diabetes. Pay attention to your body and don’t ignore the signs – earlier diagnosis means earlier control, and a better chance of staying healthy.   

By Dr David Cavan
Endocrinology, diabetes & metabolism

Dr David Cavan is one of the UK's leading diabetes physicians with considerable experience and expertise in all aspects of the management of the condition. He has particular interest in the intensive management of type 1 diabetes including insulin pump therapy, and lifestyle management in those with type 2 diabetes.

Dr Cavan strongly believes in the importance education and self-management for people with diabetes, and he has developed educational programmes for those with type 1 & 2 diabetes. He has worked on a number of global projects, including most recently the development of programmes in Bermuda to tackle the high prevalence of type 2 diabetes there. 

Dr Cavan has contributed to numerous peer-reviewed publications on many aspects of diabetes. In 2014, he published his first book, 'Reverse your diabetes: the step by step plan to take control of type 2 diabetes'. This was followed in 2016 by 'Reverse your diabetes diet'. In June 2018 he published 'Take control of type 1 diabetes' and is currently writing 'The low carb diabetes cookbook', to be published in November 2018. He also provides his expertise to Diabetes Turnaround that supports individuals with type 2 diabetes, by providing everything they need (including meals) to promote reversal of diabetes using a low-carb approach. 

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