Could you or a loved one have diabetes and not know it? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that diabetes affects 26 million Americans, with 19 million people diagnosed and 7 million undiagnosed. And an estimated 79 million Americans over the age of 20 have prediabetes, and are at risk of developing the disease.

How could someone have a chronic condition and not be aware of it? Diabetes is a progressive disease and the symptoms may not seem serious at first.

Recognizing the symptoms may help you catch the disease before it becomes too serious, and will help you gain better control over your health. The American Diabetes Association website lists the symptoms of diabetes for early detection.

Symptoms of diabetes:

  • Frequent urination

  • Extreme thirst

  • Feeling hungry even after eating

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Blurry vision

  • Tingling, pain or numbness in the hand/feet

  • Cuts and scratches that are not healing

If diabetes is left untreated it can lead to severe complications that may diminish the quality of life and sometimes even cause death.

Complications from undiagnosed or untreated diabetes:

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) can lead to a diabetic coma and in some cases death. “When your cells don’t get the glucose they need for energy, your body begins to burn fat for energy, which produces ketones. Ketones are acids that build up in the blood and appear in the urine when your body doesn’t have enough insulin,” says the ADA. DKA may happen to anyone with diabetes, but is rarer in type 2 diabetics.

Nerve damage to the hands and feet reduces sensation, which means unnoticed minor injuries may progress to the point of gangrene and amputation.

Heart and kidney damage may cause a heart attack, stroke and even kidney failure. It’s common for younger people with diabetes to have blockage of the coronary arteries. Diabetes damages the small blood vessels in the kidneys, which if untreated can lead to dialysis or needing a transplant.

Eye complications may put those with diabetes at risk for partial or total blindness. Retinopathy is a disorder of the retina caused by uncontrolled blood sugar, high blood pressure, genes and the length of time you’ve been living with diabetes. Diabetics also have a high risk of cataracts and glaucoma if they do not manage their disease.

If you or a loved one suspects diabetes, it’s important to see a health care provider and get tested. Knowing your diagnosis will not only help you understand what’s going on with your body, but it may even save your life.

To learn more on this topic:
What is Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)?
Doctor Discussion Guide: Talking to Your Doctor About Neuropathy
Book Cataracts and Glaucoma: The Other Diabetic Eye Complications