A little fatigue. An extra five pounds you can’t shake. A bruise that just won’t heal. None of these symptoms are especially eyebrow-raising on their own. But taken together, they could be signs of a silent epidemic that’s affecting more and more women across the country: pre-diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that at least 86 million Americans—more than one in three—have the condition, which is marked by blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough to qualify as diabetic. But as many as nine in 10 sufferers don’t know they have it, says Ashita Gupta, M.D., an endocrinologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “That’s because it’s common for people to feel perfectly normal and healthy while the disease is progressing,” she explains.
Still, there are signs and symptoms you can watch out for. And you should, since pre-diabetes can be treated and reversed through dietary tweaks and healthy lifestyle changes when it’s caught earlier. But the longer it goes undiagnosed and untreated, the greater the chance of it turning into full-blown diabetes, which is much harder to rebound from. So in honor of November, which is American Diabetes Month, we asked Gupta to share some of the most common red flags of pre-diabetes. If you’ve experienced any of the symptoms on the slides ahead, ask your doctor to test you as soon as possible.
Sudden spikes and dips in your blood sugar (which are common in those with pre-diabetes) can impair your eye’s ability to bend and focus, leading to blurred vision, says Gupta. The blurriness should go away once you get your sugar levels back into normal range. (Here are 10 other Surprising Things Your Eyes Reveal About Your Health.)
One of the more well-known signs of pre-diabetes and diabetes, excessive thirst occurs in response to the surplus sugar in the blood. Your body attempts to flush the excess into the urine, which means you’ll need to go more often than usual. This in turn can cause dehydration, making you feel thirsty. (Don’t know how much water you should be drinking? Ask The Diet Doctor.)
High blood sugar can slow your circulation, so skin takes longer to repair itself. As a result, minor bruises and cuts might take longer than usual to heal, says Gupta. The condition can also promote the growth of bacteria and fungi, which may lead to repeat infections, adds Gupta, especially of the skin or vagina, like urinary tract infections. (Learn about 4 Surprising Causes of UTIs.)
Your body uses blood sugar for fuel. But pre-diabetes causes insulin resistance, which means your body isn’t able to efficiently convert the glucose in your blood into energy, leaving you with severe fatigue—and sometimes even flu-like symptoms, says Gupta.
When the body is unable to get the energy it needs from blood glucose, it starts burning other things for fuel, resulting in weight loss, even if you’re not on a diet or working out, says Gupta. On the other hand, insulin resistance can make you feel hungry, which can cause weight gain.
High insulin levels can speed the rate at which skin cells reproduce, leading to a condition called acanthosis nigricans. It occurs when skin on the back of the neck, under the arm, or in the creases of your elbows begins to darken and take on a smooth or velvety feeling, explains Gupta.