Could you have undiagnosed diabetes?
Many of the symptoms of diabetes can be subtle. Maybe you’re thirstier or more hungry than usual. Perhaps you’ve noticed patches of darker skin in your armpits, elbows, knees, groin, or on your neck. Or you can’t figure out why you’re more tired than usual. All these symptoms can be caused by type 2 diabetes.
Of the 30.3 million American adults living with type 2 diabetes, 7.2 million of those people have undiagnosed diabetes according to statistics from the American Diabetes Association. An additional 84.1 million adults in the U.S. have prediabetes—blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be classified as diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that of those 84.1 million adults with prediabetes, 70% will develop diabetes over time.
The dangers of undiagnosed diabetes
If diabetes is not properly diagnosed and treated to control blood sugar levels, the disease can cause serious damage to your heart and blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, nerves, gastrointestinal tract, and gums and teeth. That damage can include:
- A significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and narrowing of the arteries
- Nerve damage, which is also called neuropathy, causing tingling, numbness, burning sensation, and pain. Neuropathy usually begins in the toes and fingers, then spreads up the limb. Neuropathy can also cause erectile dysfunction.
- Kidney damage that can lead to kidney failure and the need for a kidney transplant
- Eye damage, which is also called retinopathy, that increases the risk of cataracts, glaucoma, and blindness
- Damage to the feet due to poor blood flow. Untreated cuts and injuries to affected feet can cause infections, which are more difficult to heal in people with diabetes. In some cases, these infections can lead to amputation.
- Skin problems such as bacterial and fungal infections and slower than normal healing of sores
- Impaired hearing
- Gastroparesis, which causes the stomach to slow or stop the movement of food to the intestines causing nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain
- An increased risk of gum disease and infections in the bones of the jaw
Symptoms you should know and a prevention plan
The most common symptoms of diabetes are:
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Losing weight without trying to
- Blurred vision
- Slow healing sores
- Frequent infections
- Tingling in your hands or feet
- Red, swollen, or tender gums
- Chronically dry, itchy skin
- Patches of darkened skin in the folds and creases of your body
The best prevention plan starts with talking to your doctor about your personal risk of developing diabetes. You may be at an increased risk if you:
- Have prediabetes
- Are overweight
- Are 45 or older
- Take part in physical activity less than three times a week
- Have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
- Have had gestational diabetes or given birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome
- Are African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, Asian American, or Alaska Native
- Have high blood pressure, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, or high triglyceride levels
Based on your risk factors, your doctor will let you know how often you should be screened for high blood sugar. If you have prediabetes or normal blood sugar levels but are at an increased risk of developing diabetes, your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes that can lower your risk, including losing weight; eating a healthy diet that’s lower in unhealthy fats and sugar and includes more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; quitting smoking; and getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per day. Depending on your current blood sugar levels, your doctor may also recommend medication to lower your blood sugar.