Complications of Diabetes
Diabetes has many complications, both short-term and long-term. The short-term complications include both deadly and some easily resolved complications. Long-term complications tend to be serious but may not appear for years or decades.
Short-Term Deadly Complications of Diabetes. The most serious complications of diabetes are those where it is undiagnosed, where a person has poor control, or where a person is non-compliant with treatment (e.g. stops taking insulin). These complications include:
Short-Term Complications of Diabetes Medications. Both insulin and diabetes pills can cause an important complication: low blood sugars. This is called “hypoglycemia” and has various other names: hypoglycemic attack, hypoglycemic event, insulin attack, or just a “hypo”. This can be severe leading to various symptoms (sweating, trembling, vision loss, etc.) and eventually to fainting or temporary unconsciousness. People usually recover from a hypo, even after fainting, but not always. A small number of people can suffer a fatality from a severe low blood sugar event. It is important to control your blood sugars to avoid low sugars, and to have an emergency glucagon kit to treat a major hypo.
Other Short-Term Milder Complications of Diabetes. In addition to these potentially deadly complications of diabetes (and the medications), there are a number of other complications or short-term effects of diabetes that people may suffer from. Most of these complications are due to high blood sugar levels, and often resolve once blood sugars are back under control.
- Mental Effects of High blood sugars. Having a high blood sugar level at any time can cause a variety of immediate effects. A person may feel overly relaxed, having a feeling of fullness (like you’ve just eating a big meal; your blood sugar levels are high), feeling of “spacing out” as the brain is relaxed, and other symptoms. Read about: Symptoms of Hyperglycemia.
- Irritability. High blood sugars can cause a person to appear grumpy or irritable. Mild personality changes may result.
- Blurred Vision. This symptom occurs at diagnosis, but can also recur with poor control of diabetes. As blood sugars fluctuate, the amount of fluid in the lens of the eye changes, leading to blurred vision that may come and go. This lens condition usually resolves once blood sugars are brought under control. It is not the same as the other main diabetic eye disorder, the much feared blindness-causing long-term eye complication called diabetic retinopathy. However a person with diabetes needs to watch for retinopathy, both at diagnosis and also in an ongoing way.
- Low appetite. Having high blood sugars is like your body has just had a large meal. You may not feel hungry if your sugars are too high. Appetite effects can get a bit confused when your stomach says it is empty but your brain thinks that the blood is flooded with sugar.
- Weak Immune System. The immune system does not function as well as it should if your blood sugars are high. This can cause a variety of minor medical conditions such as fungal infections, poor healing of minor wounds, and so on.
- Persistent rashes. Due to the weaker immune system, some types of rashes can occur, such as fungal rashes on the lower legs, ankles or feet. These may be difficult to treat and may recur, unless blood sugar control is improved.
- Yeast infections (Candida; thrush). Candida is a fungal infection that can also occur more often when diabetes is not controlled.
- Acne outbreaks. Acne can get worse, even in less common places such as acne on the back. High blood sugars give encouragement to acne bacteria.
- Bacterial infections. Any type of bacterial infection may be more likely, get worse, or be harder to treat if your blood sugars are high.
- Toe pain (toe tingling; burning sensations; toe numbness). High blood sugars do damage to nerves, called neuropathy. It isn’t always permanent damage. The nerves can feel pain when the blood sugars are high, and then the pain may lessen when blood sugars are controlled. The toes are the most common location for sensations, but not the only ones.
Long-Term Serious Complications of Diabetes: There are many longer term effects on various body organs, which can eventually lead to severe problems or death. Some of the major concerns are:
- Diabetic Heart Disease
- Blood Vessel Disease.
- Diabetic Kidney Disease (Diabetic Nephropathy)
- Diabetic Retinopathy. A serious disorder of the retina in the back of the eyes.
- Diabetic Liver Disease
- Diabetic Neuropathy. A variety of different nerves in the body may be affected. There are various types of neuropathy.
- Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy. This is nerve damage to the hands or feet. Tingling toes are a very common symptom.
- Diabetic Gastroparesis. A form of neuropathy of the stomach nerve, leading to gastric motility issues and other digestive symptoms.
- Diabetic Diarrhea. A neuropathy of the nerve in the intestines, causing digestive issues.
- Diabetic Autonomic Neuropathy. This is neuropathy of the “autonomic nervous system” which controls many of our unconscious body functions.
- Erectile Dysfunction (Diabetic). Also called “impotence”. This is caused by diabetic damage to both nerves and to small blood vessels.
- Dementia (Alzheimer’s). There is a known association between diabetes and dementia disorders of the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease.
And that’s just the short list. Diabetes can impact just about any nerve or blood vessel in the body.
Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.