A Guide To Diabetes Symptoms: What To Look Out For

A Guide To Diabetes Symptoms: What To Look Out For

There are classic diabetes symptoms that can affect people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The most common diabetes symptoms are the four Ts: 

  • Tired: Feeling weak and exhausted
  • Thirsty: Increased thirst, even having drunk plenty of fluids
  • Toilet: Passing more urine than usual
  • Thinner: Suddenly losing weight without trying

However, there are many different symptoms, with individuals affected in differing ways. If you are concerned about diabetes symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor or call NHS 111.


What are the symptoms of type 1 diabetes?


Type 1 diabetes can develop rapidly, with symptoms coming on quickly, particularly in children. 

When you develop type 1 diabetes, the levels of glucose in your blood will rise. A high glucose level is known as hyperglycaemia or a hyper. A hyper can make you pass glucose in your urine and affect your body’s fluid balance. You may pass large volumes of urine, feel very thirsty and have visual problems. Without insulin, the cells can’t get the energy they need, so that you may feel tired and weak. 

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:

  • Feeling tired, listless and unwell
  • Passing more urine. You may pass larger volumes, need to go more often, or have to get up in the night
  • Feeling thirsty despite drinking more
  • Blurred vision 
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Increased hunger
  • Skin darkening in the armpits and groin
  • Fruity smelling breath
  • Recurrent infections

It can be challenging to spot the signs of type 1 diabetes in children and infants, who may not be able to express their symptoms. As well as the symptoms above, look out for:

  • Problems controlling their bladder despite previously being potty trained or dry at night 
  • Babies and toddlers may have heavy, wet nappies
  • Appearing tired and listless
  • Weight loss despite seeming hungry all the time
  • Recurrent infections such as oral thrush and nappy rash
  • Cuts and scrapes take a long time to heal
  • Tummy ache
  • Headaches
  • Behavioural problems

Find out more about signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes in children.


What are the symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis?


If hyperglycaemia in type 1 diabetes isn’t treated quickly and effectively, a serious complication called diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA can develop. One in three people with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes presents with DKA; it is also more common in people with an illness or infection and pregnant women with type 1 diabetes. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a medical emergency that needs urgent care. 

When your body doesn’t have insulin to use glucose as fuel, it breaks down fat instead. When the body burns fat, it creates acidic chemicals called ketones. Ketones can build up in your bloodstream, and there is a danger of becoming severely unwell. The symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include:

  • Fruity smell of ketones on the breath. Ketones smell like nail varnish remover or pear drops
  • Nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain
  • Dehydration- dry mouth and lips and no tears
  • Weak, floppy and limp
  • Unconsciousness and coma as the condition develops
  • A deep and laboured pattern of breathing

Hospital teams can treat DKA with insulin and rigorous fluid balance. So get emergency help if you notice symptoms.


Type 2 diabetes symptoms


Although people with type 2 diabetes may develop symptoms, many people living with the disease don’t have any symptoms. A healthcare professional may pick up their diabetes during a health check or routine screening. Type 2 diabetes symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Feeling weak and low in energy
  • Passing more urine
  • Feeling more thirsty than usual
  • Feeling more hungry, especially after meals
  • Blurred vision
  • Weight loss
  • Cuts and other wounds are slow to heal
  • Itchy skin
  • Itching of the genital area
  • Recurrent infections


What happens if you ignore the symptoms of diabetes?


The idea of having a chronic condition can be frightening, so it can be tempting to ignore the symptoms and hope they’ll go away. 

If you ignore signs of type 1 diabetes, the symptoms can develop quickly. Leaving type 1 diabetes untreated can cause serious problems such as diabetic ketoacidosis.

Type 2 diabetes usually develops more slowly. It can be easier to miss or ignore symptoms, particularly in the early stages. If your type 2 diabetes is not identified, treated and monitored, it can have long term implications for your health and longevity.  

Uncontrolled diabetes can progressively damage your eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves and kidneys. If you are diagnosed at an early stage and actively manage your blood glucose levels, you will feel better, prevent the long term complications of diabetes and protect your health. 


What are the symptoms of a hypo?


Hypo is short of hypoglycaemia. A hypo happens when the amount of glucose in your blood drops too low. If a hypo isn’t treated quickly, there is a danger of collapse, coma and even death. So, when you live with diabetes, you and your family and friends will need to recognise and treat a hypo. Awareness can protect your health and could save your life.

Hypos are more likely if you inject insulin or take a sulfonylurea to control your diabetes. If you manage your type 2 diabetes with diet or metformin, hypos are very uncommon. People experience hypos in different ways, with some people suffering from sudden onset hypos with few warning signs. This can be particularly challenging to manage.

The signs and symptoms of a hypo include:

  • Feeling tired, shaky and ill 
  • Looking pale, clammy and sweaty
  • Increased hunger
  • Feeling weak and faint
  • Visual disturbance and blurring
  • Restlessness, agitation and inability to concentrate
  • Headache
  • Moodiness
  • Aggression and anger
  • Appearing confused and disorientated
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased level of consciousness and coma
  • Seizures

If you are aware that you’re having a hypo, you need to act quickly. Take 15-20g of fast-acting carbohydrates, like five dextrose tablets, five jelly baby-sized sweets or five jelly baby-sized sweets or four to five sugar lumps, half a can of sugary cola or lemonade or a small carton of fruit juice. 

You should also take some slow carbohydrates, like bread, an apple or banana. This will provide a slower and more sustained supply of energy, keeping your glucose topped up until your next meal.

If you are no longer aware of your hypo, are confused or losing consciousness, a friend or family member needs to get your blood sugar to a safe level. They should:

  • Rub glucose gel, jam or honey on the inside of your cheek. They shouldn’t make you swallow something if your consciousness is impaired because you could choke 
  • Inject glucagon: Glucagon acts against insulin and raises blood glucose levels. It is helpful in the treatment of severe hypoglycaemia. You will be given a kit if you are injecting insulin, make sure that those close to you understand how to use it


To find out more about effective diabetes medications, or to speak to one of our specialists about prospective treatment options, contact us today.











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Carol Willis - Diabetes Clinic Facilitator

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