Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It happens when blood sugar levels rise due to problems with the use or production of insulin.
It can appear at any age, but it is more likely to occur after the age of 45 years.
This article looks at the early signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes, the risk factors, and potential complications.
People with type 2 diabetes do not make or use insulin correctly.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates the movement of blood glucose, or sugar, into cells, which use it as energy.
When sugar cannot enter cells, this means:
- too much glucose collects in the blood
- the body’s cells cannot use it for energy
A doctor may diagnose diabetes if a person’s blood sugar levels are 126 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) or above after fasting for 8 hours.
The symptoms of high blood sugar in type 2 diabetes tend to appear gradually. Not everyone with type 2 diabetes will notice symptoms in the early stages.
If a person does experience symptoms, they may notice the following:
- Frequent urination and increased thirst: When excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream, the body will extract fluid from tissues. This can lead to excessive thirst and the need to drink and urinate more.
- Increased hunger: In type 2 diabetes, the cells are not able to access glucose for energy. The muscles and organs will be low on energy, and the person may feel more hungry than usual.
- Weight loss: When there is too little insulin, the body may start burning fat and muscle for energy. This causes weight loss.
- Fatigue: When cells lack glucose, the body becomes tired. Fatigue can interfere with daily life when a person has type 2 diabetes.
- Blurred vision: High blood glucose can cause fluid to be pulled from the lenses of the eyes, resulting in swelling, leading to temporarily blurred vision.
- Infections and sores: It takes longer to recover from infections and sores because blood circulation is poor and there may be other nutritional deficits.
If people notice these symptoms, they should see a doctor. Diabetes can lead to a number of serious complications. The sooner a person starts to manage their glucose levels, the better chance they have of preventing complications.
Symptoms in children and teens
Type 2 diabetes is more likely to appear after the age of 45 years, but it can affect children and teens who:
- have excess weight
- do not do much physical activity
- have high blood pressure
- have a family history of type 2 diabetes
- have an African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, or American Indian background
The following symptoms may occur:
- weight loss, despite increased appetite and hunger
- extreme thirst and dry mouth
- frequent urination and urinary tract infections
- blurred vision
- slow healing of cuts or wounds
- numbness or tingling in hands and feet
- itchy skin
If caregivers notice these symptoms, they should take the child to see a doctor. These are also symptoms of type 1 diabetes. Type 1 is less common but more likely to affect children and teenagers than adults. However, type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in young people than it was in the past.
Learn more here about how diabetes affects children and teens and how to spot the symptoms early.
Symptoms in older adults
At least 25.2 percent of people aged 65 and above have type 2 diabetes in the United States. They may have some or all the classic symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
They may also experience one or more of the following:
- flu-like fatigue, which includes feeling lethargic and chronically weak
- urinary tract infections
- numbness and tingling in the hands, arms, legs, and feet due to circulation and nerve damage
- dental problems, including infections of the mouth and red, inflamed gums
Most people do not experience symptoms in the early stages, and they may not have symptoms for many years.
A possible early sign of type 2 diabetes is darkened skin on certain areas of the body, including:
- the neck
- the elbows
- the knees
- the knuckles
This is known as acanthosis nigricans.
Other early symptoms include:
- frequent bladder, kidney, or skin infections
- cuts that take longer to heal
- extreme hunger
- increased thirst
- urinary frequency
- blurred vision
A person may have mild or subtle symptoms for many years, but these can become in time. Further health problems can develop.
Prediabetes and diabetes prevention
A person with blood sugar levels of 100–125 mg/dl will receive a diagnosis of prediabetes. This means that their blood sugar levels are high, but they do not have diabetes. Taking action at this stage can prevent diabetes from developing.
According to a 2016 report published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 33.6 percent of people aged 45 years and older had prediabetes in 2012.
The CDC estimate that around 84 million American adults have prediabetes, but most do not know they have it.
Diabetes may cause a number of health complications if people do not manage it properly. Many of these are chronic, or long-term, but they can become life-threatening. Others need immediate medical attention as soon as they appear.