Two years ago, at the age of 20, I was studying abroad in Spain and started feeling AWFUL during the first week. It’s shocking to admit, but I walked around not realizing I was type 1 diabetic for three months…The problem was that I didn't understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 so I didn't recognize the symptoms I was experiencing.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a genetic, autoimmune disease, where the body attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and kills them. Thus, insulin is no longer able to allow sugar from food to enter into the cells of the body and give them energy and this sugar buildup can cause life-threatening damage to the blood vessels. There is no way to prevent T1D and people with it become dependent on insulin shots and monitoring blood sugar each and every moment.

On the other hand, type 2 diabetes can also be genetic, but lifestyle factors such as living a sedentary lifestyle or eating unhealthy can also play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.

Here are some symptoms to keep an eye out for in case you ever notice them among friends, family, or yourself. 

Extreme Thirst

lemon, water, lemonade
Caroline Liu

This is a biggie! The body is trying to wash itself from all of the sugar floating around in the body so it triggers thirst. I felt like nothing could ever quench my thirst and drank water constantly. Let my roommate attest to this. She thought I was crazy for chugging gallons of water before I even walked out the door of our apartment.

Frequent Urination

After all of that water intake, just picture waking up in the middle of the night a few times with you bladder ready to explode. When walking around town, your friends are all dreading the moment you’re going to say, “I reeeally need to find a bathroom.” No further explanation needed.


My roommate and I speed walked about 30 minutes to our Spanish classes everyday. I specifically remember several times asking her to just take my hand and pull me along with her. I kept asking her how in the world she walked so fast. Below is a pretty accurate reflection of how I probably looked while sitting in class each day.

Weight Loss

cake, chocolate, pizza, candy, feast
Emily Palmer

Since sugar cannot enter the cells to give them energy when insulin is not working, it starts tapping into fat storage. This kind of weight loss is fairly rapid. A person with type 1 diabetes might ask himself or herself how they’ve been losing weight without exercising harder than normal.

At first I was really excited that I had lost some of my “sophomore 15” during this time, but I kept thinking to myself that it didn’t feel like I did much to lose the weight. I had lost 18 pounds by the time I was finally diagnosed. 

Keep in mind that my friends and I ate gelato almost every day. (it's a Spanish thing). This is another reminder that weight loss shouldn't be happening so intensely.


paella, seafood, meat, rice, prawn, vegetable, shrimp, shellfish, risotto
Sarah Strong

Picture a Spanish host mom force-feeding you three HUGE homemade meals a day, having gelato almost everyday after school day, and still being hungry. Again, my roommate thought I was crazy stuffing my face and then buying extra snacks (aka chocolate).


cocktail, ice, juice, strawberry, mint, sweet, lemonade
Mira Nguyen

It’s never normal to feel dizzy while merely sitting down for dinner or while walking down the street. In my case this was a direct effect from drinking soda with friends at a small cafe after our Spanish classes. The overload of sugar from the Coke was producing immediate feelings of dizziness and I found it hard to concentrate on our conversations.

These are all signs to go talk to your doctor or to encourage your friend or family member to do so. There is also a more complete list here thanks to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. You can truly prevent lots of damage to the body and feelings of illness from Type 1 diabetes by remembering these symptoms. Let's share them with others and keep them in mind so we can help those we love live the healthiest life they can.