Besides the well-known symptoms—like constant thirst and a frequent need to urinate—here are less obvious symptoms that could be warning signs of diabetes.
Depending on what type of diabetes you have, it can take anywhere from weeks to years for symptoms to develop. While type 1 diabetes symptoms can appear in just a few weeks or months, symptoms of type 2 diabetes can take several years to develop.
While your symptoms may be typical, like increased thirst and urination, there are also more unusual symptoms of diabetes you may have, like gum disease and hearing changes.
Receiving a diagnosis as soon as possible means that you can start managing your diabetes sooner, reducing the risks of complications. So because the unusual diabetes symptoms may be disease warning signs, it is important to know what they are.
Unusual Diabetes Symptoms
At the time of diagnosis, people may have the more classic symptoms of diabetes like fatigue, increased urination, and excessive thirst and hunger. But there are several other symptoms of diabetes that might be warning signs of the condition but that seem less obvious.
Periodontitis is a serious form of gum disease where the gums pull away from the tooth. This can cause teeth to loosen or fall out.
Periodontitis is two to three times more common in people with diabetes than in those without. The gum disease is not only more common, but it’s also likely to progress more quickly and be more severe among those with diabetes.
The relationship appears to be a two-way street: while diabetes can worsen periodontitis, periodontitis can be a risk factor for high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), a defining factor of diabetes. In fact, periodontitis has been associated with higher A1C levels, which tell you your average blood sugar numbers over the past three months.
Chronic inflammation is the central feature in the progression of both diabetes and periodontal disease. People with diabetes and periodontitis have higher inflammatory markers.
The inflammation in diabetes may be a contributing factor as to why the bones that support your teeth are destroyed. That bone loss marks the most serious stage of periodontitis, when teeth can loosen or fall out.
Certain skin conditions can be the first sign that you have diabetes.
One example is acanthosis nigricans. This is a velvety, dark, often thick patch on the skin that commonly develops in the creases or folds of skin, such as the back of the neck, the axilla (where the arm connects to the shoulder), and the groin. These patches can also occur on the hands, feet, elbows, and knees.
An increase in insulin levels can cause acanthosis nigricans. Insulin is a hormone that helps move glucose (blood sugar) into cells for energy. Sometimes the cells resist the insulin and, in response, more insulin is produced. Increased insulin levels is an indication of insulin resistance, which is a precursor to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Other types of skin conditions that may be a warning sign of diabetes include:
- Digital sclerosis: This appears as thick patches of skin that make the skin feel stiff. Most commonly, it develops on the back of the hand, but it can also be on the forehead, feet, and fingers. About a third of people with type 1 diabetes will have it.
- Eruptive xanthomatosis: These bumps appear as firm, yellow, and pea-like. They have a red halo and can itch. They often appear on the feet, arms, buttocks, and back of hands. It is common among men with type 1 diabetes.
- Diabetic blisters: These are rare and look like a burn blister, but they usually don’t cause pain. The blisters can develop on the fingers, hands, toes, feet, and sometimes forearms. They clear up in a few weeks, typically without scarring.
- Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum: These sores are usually large, deep, painful, and itchy. They start as a small raised red lump that can begin to appear like a shiny scar with a violet border. The condition—which is caused by blood vessel changes—is rare, with adult women with diabetes being the most likely to develop it.
People with diabetes are at increased risk of developing infections.
This can include bacterial infections like those around the nails or those of the hair follicles, as well as boils and styes (when the glands of the eyelids are infected). Different bacteria can cause these infections, but the most common is Staphylococcus (Staph).
Fungal infections can also be more common. Most often, these infections are caused by a fungus called Candida, a type of yeast. These infections can present as jock itch, ringworm, vaginal yeast infection, and athlete’s foot.
Frequent infections may occur due to a combination of high blood sugar levels creating an environment for bacteria to grow and weakening immune response.
One of the most common sites for infection in diabetes is the urinary tract. This can be because diabetes impairs the immune system or because the diabetes has affected nerves to a degree where the bladder no longer completely empties.
Certain vision changes can be a sign that your blood sugars are elevated. Excess sugar can damage the small vessels in the eye and cause changes in fluid, affecting vision clarity.
Some of the earliest vision changes can include blurry vision or having trouble reading or seeing objects that are far away. If not addressed, the vision changes can worsen and you might see dark, floating spots or streaks.
People with diabetes are also at increased risk of hearing loss. In fact, diabetes doubles your risk of hearing loss. This is due to nerve damage in your ears that high or low blood sugar can cause.
Long-term high blood sugar may damage small blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. Long-term low blood sugar can damage the way nerve signals are sent from the inner ear to your brain.
Bed Wetting in Children
Children who are already potty-trained and able to sleep through the night without accidents may start wetting the bed a couple times a week. This situation is known as nocturnal enuresis and could be a sign of an underlying condition like type 1 diabetes.
Nocturnal enuresis is actually a typical symptom of type 1 diabetes in children, but one that parents or caregivers might not automatically connect to a potential type 1 diabetes diagnosis. Because the onset of type 1 diabetes symptoms in youth can be sudden and, if not treated promptly, become a medical emergency, it is an important symptom to note.
The increase in urination is usually accompanied by increased thirst and hunger as well as weight loss.
A Quick Review
Increased thirst, hunger, and urination are some of the symptoms most commonly associated with diabetes. But there are many other symptoms that someone with diabetes can experience that you might not automatically tie to the disease. Some of the more unusual symptoms of diabetes include gum disease, dark patches of skin, and an increase in infections.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of diabetes—especially if you are at higher risk for the disease—visit a healthcare provider to figure out what’s causing your symptoms. Early detection and treatment is important for improving your quality of life, reducing the risk of complications, and prolonging or preventing the progression of diabetes.