The signs and symptoms of Type 1 diabetes usually develop quickly, especially in children, over a period of weeks. In babies and young children, the first indication of Type 1 diabetes may be a yeast infection that causes a severe diaper rash that's far worse than the common red, puffy and tender skin rash. In young children and infants, lethargy, dehydration and abdominal pain also may indicate Type 1 diabetes.
Once the symptoms appear, a blood test generally will reveal very high blood glucose.
Type 2 diabetes can be detected easily during a routine screening exam and blood test. However, it frequently can go undiagnosed for years unless a physician draws a blood sample to check the blood glucose.
In the early stages of Type 2 diabetes, you experience few to no noticeable signs of the disease. As time goes by and the untreated blood glucose continues to rise, symptoms begin.
If you're over 40 or have parents or siblings with diabetes, be sure to have your blood glucose checked routinely.
The most common symptoms of undiagnosed Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are:
- Extreme thirst and a greater need to urinate: As excess glucose (sugar) builds up in the bloodstream, fluid is pulled from the tissues. The loss of fluid makes you thirsty. As a result, you may drink and urinate more than usual.
- Frequent hunger: Without enough insulin to move sugar into the cells (Type 1) or insulin resistance prohibiting insulin from entering the cells (Type 2), the muscles and organs are low on energy. This triggers intense hunger.
- Weight loss: Despite eating more than usual to relieve hunger, rapid weight loss sometimes occurs. Without the energy that glucose supplies, muscle tissues and fat stores simply shrink. Unexplained weight loss is often one of the first symptoms to be noticed.
- Blurred vision: If the blood glucose is too high, fluid may be pulled from the lenses of the eyes, affecting the person's ability to focus clearly.
- Feeling tired: If cells are deprived of sugar, you may become tired and lethargic.
- Slow-healing sores, yeast infections, urinary tract infections, etc.: High blood glucose reduces the immune system's ability to fight infections.
Much of the time, a simple blood test that evaluates your current blood glucose level is the first step in diagnosing diabetes.
If the blood test reveals that your level is above 125 mg/dl, your doctor will ask you to repeat the test on a different day to confirm a diabetes diagnosis. Or your doctor may immediately order an A1C test, which measures your average blood glucose (sugar) levels over the last three months. The test looks at the amount of glucose that has attached to the red blood cells as they move through the bloodstream. The more glucose in the blood, the higher the A1C percentage. The higher the A1C, the more damage is occurring to your large and small blood vessels.
Especially for those who have diabetes, the A1C test gives you a better picture overall than just a single blood test that measures only your current level of blood glucose that day.
A normal A1C level ranges from 4.5 to 5.6 percent for someone who doesn't have diabetes. When the A1C test is used for diagnosing diabetes, an A1C level above 6.4 percent on two separate tests indicates diabetes.
For those with diabetes, doctors often recommend an A1C level of 7 percent or less for optimal well-being.