What are the signs and symptoms of Diabetes?

Diabetes, and being diagnosed with it, is a journey. It’s not always a clear view of whether you have Diabetes symptoms or those of another health condition. Because of this, we’re dedicating this article to helping you learn more about common Diabetes symptoms, early warning signs and myths.

13 Symptoms of diabetes you can check yourself.

What are the most common symptoms of Diabetes?

Diabetes symptoms are being studied on an ongoing basis. Thanks to medical researchers, we’re always learning new things about the link between Diabetes and other factors, preventative measures and ways to manage Diabetes effectively. The most commonly recognised symptoms of Diabetes include:

  • Blurry vision and varying degrees of visual impairment, known as Diabetic Retinopathy
  • Frequent urination and/or kidney function impairment
  • Nerve damage, observed through ongoing numbness and/or tingling sensations in limbs and extremities
  • Fatigue: always feeling tired and lacking energy

Diabetes symptom #1: blurry vision; Diabetic Retinopathy

In Diabetic people, sugar is unable to enter the cells and starts to build up in the blood. After some time, this can cause problems in several places throughout the body. For example, high levels of sugar can make the blood vessels in your eyes begin to swell and eventually bleed. When bleeding reaches the back of your eye (the retina), it can cause blurry vision and, in some cases, lead to blindness.

Diabetes symptom #2: urine and kidney issues

High levels of blood sugar may also damage blood vessels that help bring oxygen and nutrients to your kidneys and may even harm the kidney cells. The main functions of your kidneys are to extract waste from the blood, balance your body fluids and produce urine to help remove the extracted waste. When your kidneys don’t get enough oxygen or nutrients to their cells, they have to work overtime to compensate.

As a result, the waste product, which should be filtered out, instead start to build up in the blood. If your sugar level continues to increase, your kidneys may stop working altogether. This process is known as kidney failure. Symptoms may include, swelling of the feet, frequent urination, puffiness around the eyes or weakness, to name a few.

Diabetes symptom #3: Nerve damage and loss of sensation

Diabetic Neuropathy is a term which refers to the nerve disorder experience that Diabetic people tend to have, particularly if they don’t manage their condition effectively. After some time, high blood sugar levels harm the small blood vessels that supply your nerves with blood, nutrients and oxygen. Less blood may reach your nerves, as a result, damaging them in the process. If you have experienced or are experiencing burning sensations, pain, numbness (loss of feeling) or tingling in your arms, hands, legs or feet, vomiting or diarrhoea, those may be symptoms of nerve damage.

Some people don’t show symptoms, though, so it’s important to go to your doctor, nurse or clinic for your check-ups annually or as directed.

Diabetes symptom #4: Fatigue and lack of energy

Do you feel tired on most days, or after performing simple tasks, even after a good night’s sleep? This may be caused by an imbalance of glucose and insulin levels inside your body. Insulin resistance keeps glucose out of your cells, causing a lack of fuel/energy for your cells. Without energy, your cells can’t function properly, so fatigue sets in.

Fatigue can also be a result of high levels of glucose, which thicken the blood. Thicker blood leads to slower blood circulation (which also requires more effort from your heart, to pump blood throughout your body). Because of this, fewer nutrients and oxygen reach your cells.

Low blood sugar or hypoglycaemia can also cause fatigue. Blood sugar, known as glucose, comes from food and is an important energy source that enables your body to complete daily tasks. Avoid fatigue by consuming meals regularly.

Understand more about Diabetes and how to live a happy, healthy life as a Diabetic.

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What other symptoms are there, for Diabetes?

Despite the four most common Diabetes symptoms which are listed above, there are more tell-tale signs that you may need to get tested or that you’re not effectively managing your condition (if you’ve already been diagnosed):

  • Your mouth is constantly dry
  • You feel hungry often, even shortly after eating meals
  • Your weight is fluctuating unnaturally
  • You experience mood swings quite often
  • Concentrating on things for moderate amounts of time feels challenging
  • It takes longer than usual for any cuts or open sores to heal
  • Infections occur frequently throughout different parts of your body
  • You get headaches or feel dizzy
  • Stomach cramps happen regularly and sometimes lead to vomiting

How do you know that these symptoms mean you have Diabetes?

Many people with Diabetes don’t realise that they have it. The signs can be so subtle that people carry on with life without realising what is actually happening to their bodies. Estimates from various sources put the number of oblivious Diabetics out there around 25% of the number of informed Diabetics.

Experiencing some symptoms of Diabetes may not necessarily mean you have this condition. Only your doctor, nurse or clinician is able to diagnose you as Diabetic, and that won’t happen overnight either. Click here to learn more about what to expect from the process of getting tested for and being diagnosed with Diabetes.

If you get diagnosed as Diabetic, or you’ve recently been diagnosed, click here to view our dedicated support journey for your first year of living with Diabetes.


Diabetes.org.uk. 2020. Diabetes UK – Know Diabetes. Fight Diabetes. [online] Available at: <https://www.Diabetes.org.uk/> [Accessed 17 August 2020].

IDF. 2020. [online] Available at: <http://idf.com/> [Accessed 17 August 2020].

Mayoclinic.org. 2020. Mayo Clinic. [online] Available at: <http://mayoclinic.org/> [Accessed 17 August 2020].

UpwellBeing. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://upwellbeing.com/> [Accessed 17 August 2020].

WebMD. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.webmd.com/> [Accessed 17 August 2020].

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions that you need to know.

Which is worse – Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes?

“Worse” is a harsh comparison. The difference between these two types of Diabetes is that Type 1 requires insulin, and it never goes away. Type 2 requires consistent effort and can be managed over your lifetime.

What is the normal HbA1C level?

It is generally accepted that you should maintain HbA1C below 8%. The following guidelines are suggested by the South African Diabetes Association:


  • 4 – 6% Non-Diabetic range. 
  • < 7% Well-controlled Diabetic 7% – 8% Acceptable Diabetic control > 8% 
  • Poor Diabetic control needs attention.

What is the main cause of Diabetes?

Diabetes (Type 1) is usually a predisposed or genetically inherited condition. Diabetes (Type 2) is caused by lifestyle choices. Gestational Diabetes can be caused by either genetics or lifestyle choices.

What are the first signs of Diabetes?

  • Excessive thirst over a prolonged period.
  • Increased frequency in the need to urinate.
  • Significant weight loss or gain.
  • You find yourself fatigued, tired, and irritable, on a regular basis.
  • Open or ruptured wounds take a long time to heal.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Tingling sensations in your hands and feet.

Can you get life insurance if you have Diabetes?

Yes. AllLife can help you get up to R10million life insurance, as either a Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetic.

Can I test myself for Diabetes?

Although you can easily test your own blood glucose levels at any time, only your doctor, nurse, or clinic team can confirm a Diabetes diagnosis. This is because a series of specific tests are required for diagnosis.

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