The main symptoms of diabetes are described as the three polys - polyuria, polydipsia, and polyphagia.

  • Polyuria or the need to urinate frequently helps the body remove excess glucose that is filtered from the blood by the kidneys
  • Polydipsia or increased thirst and fluid intake compensates for the loss of fluids resulting from increased urination
  • Polyphagia or increased appetite compensates for the loss of glucose and fluids from the body, caused by excessive urination

Individuals with high risk for developing diabetes should be alert to these symptoms and seek medical attention if they notice the above symptoms.

Beyond the three "polys", other indicators for diabetes (listed by American Diabetes Association) include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Slow healing of cuts/bruises
  • Weight loss
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet

In more advanced stages of diabetes, the following symptoms and diabetes complications may also be seen

  • Fainting and/or dizziness (possibly due to sudden drops in blood glucose levels due to poor management or increased medication)
  • Foot ulcers (resulting from inability to attend to foot injuries due to loss of sensation in the extremities. These conditions may lead to gangrene and amputation)
  • Peripheral neuropathy (loss of sensation, autonomic dysfunction)
  • Retinopathy (blindness, blurred vision, or eye problems)
  • Nephropathy (kidney damage)
  • Damage to nerves (usually affects the extremities first) and bloods vessels, exposing diabetics to risk of cardiovascular complications (e.g., high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke) 
  • Increased susceptibility to infections (e.g., urinary tract infections, sepsis, gangrene), since high glycemic environment provides a favorable medium for microbes

Risk Factors

Individuals may be susceptible to developing diabetes based on family history, age, ethnicity, and overall health. Therefore, clinicians recommend checking blood glucose levels in order to diagnose diabetes at early stages and prevent the complications associated with this disorder. Although the correlation between genetics and environmental factors with susceptibility to certain diabetes complications is not fully understood, maintaining good glycemic control remains a crucial mitigating factor in reducing rates of microvascular complications, cardiovascular events, and overall mortality.

Risks for developing Type 1 Diabetes: Recent exploration of human genomic regions associated with type 1 diabetes has identified candidate genes, gene products, and genetic loci that influence susceptibility to type 1 diabetes. Exposure to some viral infections (e.g., mumps), trauma (e.g., motor vehicle accident) and environmental factors (e.g., climate, and geographical location) could trigger the onset of type 1 diabetes. While gender does not appear to be a significant determinant of type 1 diabetes as incidence rates are generally similar for males and females, the risk of type 1 diabetes increases with age during childhood and adolescence (Dorman, 1997). 

Risks for developing Type 2 Diabetes: People who are obese, have a family history of diabetes, or belong to high-risk ethnic groups (e.g., African American, Native American, Hispanic, and Pacific Islanders) should be regularly screened for the disorder. Environmental and behavioral risk factors, such as obesity and sedentary lifestyle, are also very important risk factors for developing this disease. Individuals of all ages diagnosed as prediabetic and pregnant mothers diagnosed with gestational diabetes are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.


Dorman, J. S. (1997). Molecular Epidemiology of insulin-dependent diabetes Mellitus. Epidemiologic Reviews, 19(1), 91–98.

"Genetics and Diabetes: Are You at Risk? | Joslin Diabetes Center".

April 2017, Jennifer Jiang, Dr. Shuchismita Dutta; Reviewed by Drs. Stephen Schneider and Stephen K. Burley