The Less Well-Known Symptoms of Diabetes

by Mary Shomon Patient Advocate

There are a number of ways to know if you’re at risk of diabetes. While you may be familiar with typical symptoms, such as thirst, excessive urination, or unexplained weight loss, you should be aware of these little-known signs and symptoms of diabetes.

Discolored skin on neck.

Discolored skin on your neck

If you notice thickening or darkening of the skin in your neck folds (or your groin and/or armpits), it’s time to get checked for diabetes. A condition called acanthosis nigricans — which causes discoloration in these skin folds — is linked to insulin resistance and is a symptom of type 2 diabetes.

Massaging the metatarsal area of the foot

Strange feelings in your toes and feet

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are associated with unusual sensations in your toes and feet, including:

  • Tingling, pins and needles
  • Numbness
  • “Dead spots” where you have loss of sensation

The strangest symptom is one I experienced myself long before my diabetes was diagnosed. I kept feeling like someone had tied a string around my big toe. It didn’t hurt, and I didn’t lose sensation in the toe, but it never occurred to me that this was an early sign of impending diabetes.

Woman covering mouth, bad breath concept.

Bad breath

If you have bad breath, you may need to check your blood sugar instead of reaching for mouthwash. Diabetes is associated with several oral and dental health problems, including dry mouth (xerostomia) and periodontitis (an infection between your teeth and gums) that can cause bad breath.

Putting band aid on finger.

Cuts that don't heal

Cuts and wounds that don't heal are signs of diabetes and uncontrolled blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, you should be especially vigilant about your feet, because numbness or diabetic neuropathy may make you less able to detect wounds to your feet, increasing your risk of developing diabetic foot ulcers.

Man dizzy after standing.

You feel dizzy when you stand up

Feeling dizzy and lightheaded when you stand up, accompanied by a drop in blood pressure, is a condition known as orthostatic hypotension. Orthostatic hypotension can be a sign of diabetes. Other symptoms of orthostatic hypotension include blurred vision, weakness, fatigue, nausea, heart palpitations, and headache.

Napping on couch.

Daytime napping

If you find yourself taking more than your usual number of daytime naps, it’s time to get off the couch and get checked for diabetes. The link is even stronger if your daytime naps are long, lasting more than one hour.

Close up on sweating face.

You sweat after eating

If you’re reaching for your napkin after dinner, it’s time to get checked for diabetes. Sweating after eating – known as gustatory sweating – can be a symptom of diabetes. Often, the sweating occurs on your face, head, or neck.

Racing heart

Your heartbeat is fast when you’re resting

If your heart rate is high even when resting – called "resting tachycardia" – this may be a sign of diabetes. Generally, resting tachycardia is defined as a heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute (BPM).

Dentist appointment.

Dental problems

Don’t be surprised if your dentist is the one who first suspects diabetes. The inflamed gum condition known as gingivitis, oral thrush (candidiasis), periodontal disease, loose teeth, and mouth sores that don't heal are all dental problems that are more common in people who have diabetes.

Problems with vision.

Vision changes

If your eyeglasses or contact lens prescription seems to be changing more frequently than usual, or you have episodes of blurred vision, it’s time to have an evaluation for diabetes. In addition to blurred vision, elevated blood sugar and diabetes can cause a variety of vision changes, including floaters and double-vision.

Woman on phone smiling; good results concept.

Your hands fall asleep frequently

If your hands fall asleep quickly and frequently – and you end up with pins and needles sensations – it may be a sign of diabetes. This type of neuropathy is often a sign of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Woman with shoulder pain.

You have frozen shoulder / adhesive capsulitis

If you are having shoulder pain, or difficulty moving your shoulder, this is a sign to also get evaluated for diabetes. A condition called adhesive capsulitis — also called frozen shoulder – occurs at much higher rates in people with diabetes compared to the non-diabetic population. Frozen shoulder usually starts with shoulder pain and stiffness, and gradually progresses to difficulty moving the shoulder—the “frozen” stage. It eventually “thaws” over time or after treatment with exercise.

Mary Shomon
Meet Our Writer
Mary Shomon

Mary Shomon is a patient advocate and New York Times bestselling author who empowers readers with information on thyroid and autoimmune disease, diabetes, weight loss and hormonal health from an integrative perspective. Mary has been a leading force advocating for more effective, patient-centered hormonal healthcare. Mary also co-stars in PBS’ Healthy Hormones TV series. Mary also serves on HealthCentral’s Health Advocates Advisory Board.