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The Long-Term Effects of Uncontrolled Diabetes

Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, MD · Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jul 05, 2021

The Long-Term Effects of Uncontrolled Diabetes

Many Filipinos are familiar with diabetes because it is a major problem in our country. At this point, it’s typical for people to know someone who’s afflicted with diabetes.  They might even know about some of the long-term effects of uncontrolled diabetes, like foot complications, nerve damage, and heart attack. In this article, we will talk about the different long-term effects of having uncontrolled blood sugar due to diabetes.

The Long-term Effects of Uncontrolled Diabetes

While there are some differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, both of them still mean one thing: you have high levels of glucose (a type of sugar) in your blood. In the long run, this increased sugar level can damage the blood vessels which supply blood to the organs of the body, resulting in various complications.

The following are some of the serious long-term effects when your diabetes is uncontrolled:

Foot Complications

If there’s one complication that’s highly attributed to diabetes, it would be foot complications. Because of the reduced blood supply and compromised nerve health, the patient’s foot may have:

  • Heightened risk of infection
  • Reduced sensation
  • Development of ulcers
  • Problems with the foot’s structure

If left untreated, it can lead to amputation of said foot.

Diabetic Neuropathy

When we say neuropathy, we’re referring to “nerve damage.” Nerves are collections of neurons or nerve cells that function to bring messages (electrical impulses) to and from the body and brain.

Like mentioned earlier, uncontrolled diabetes could damage the blood vessels which are supplying nourishment to the nerve cells, ultimately decreasing their function.

Take, for instance, this scenario as an example:

Someone with unaddressed high sugar levels related to either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes could experience numbing or tingling sensations in their hands and feet. This happens because the nerves that sense heat and touch are already affected.

You can learn more about diabetic neuropathy and the possibility to reverse it by reading this article:

Skin and Mouth Conditions

Some of the long-term effects of uncontrolled diabetes involve the skin and mouth.

Because of the blood vessel and nerve damage, diabetics might develop dry skin, especially on their feet. High blood sugar levels can also compromise our skin’s ability to protect us from infections.

Additionally, someone who has poorly managed diabetes could experience mouth problems like gum infections, tooth decay, sores, and thrush. For this reason, regular visits to the dentist should be a priority.

Non-Healing Wounds

Compared to a person with healthy blood sugar, diabetics may find that it takes longer for their wounds to heal, or it may tend to worsen without the proper treatment. Diabetics are urged to be extra cautious of cuts and wounds, and surgerious may become more complicated in their cases.

To learn more about foot complications and how you can manage them, you can head over to this article:

Diabetic Nephropathy

Diabetic nephropathy is the other name for kidney disease caused by diabetes.

Our kidneys are exceptional organs: they contain millions of capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that work hard to filter our blood and remove the toxic wastes in our body.  However, when you have uncontrolled blood sugar level, this remarkable filtering system could break down.

You see, when you have unmanaged diabetes, the kidneys would have to filter too much blood. Years of extra hard work can make the filters “leak,” eventually releasing proteins that should have been used by the body. Please understand that proteins are big molecules – under normal conditions, they will not pass through the holes of the filters.

From having just small amounts of proteins in the urine (microalbuminuria), the situation may worsen. Eventually, it may lead to ESRD or end-stage renal disease when the condition is not treated.

Diabetic Retinopathy

It’s not surprising for someone to lose their vision due to sustained high blood glucose. This is because eye problems (diabetic retinopathy) are one of the long-term effects of uncontrolled diabetes.

Like the kidneys, our eyes have a lot of tiny blood vessels that bring nourishment to the “seeing part” of the eyes called the retina. With high glucose levels, these blood vessels could leak, develop blockages, or grow randomly. The bottom line is our retina wouldn’t be able to receive the blood it needs for us to see properly, resulting in eye problems.

It’s worth noting that in its early stages, diabetic retinopathy may have no symptoms at all. This is why eye check-ups are vital. To know more about diabetic retinopathy and to ascertain whether your diabetes is already affecting your vision, you can read this article:

Cardiovascular Diseases

When we say cardiovascular diseases, we are using a collective term for various conditions that affect the heart and the blood vessels.

Studies show that when you have diabetes, be it Type 1 or Type 2, you’re more prone to develop cardiovascular diseases. CVDs are serious long-term effects of uncontrolled diabetes because they could lead to fatal conditions like stroke and heart attack.

Cardiovascular diseases due to diabetes happen because, like the other organs we have discussed, our heart depends largely on blood supply. When our heart doesn’t receive enough blood, it’ll be oxygen-deprived. This deprivation could potentially lead to a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

A stroke happens similarly – only, the organ affected is our brain. Did you know that people with diabetes are 1.5 times more at risk of suffering from stroke than those who are not diabetic? This is why for someone who has diabetes, regular consultation with a doctor is important.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Finally, there’s diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA – one of the most dangerous long-term effects of uncontrolled diabetes. DKA is considered a medical emergency and the person must be admitted to the ICU.

To explain DKA, we need to go over some of the basic concepts:

  • Our cells primarily use glucose as energy, however, for us to be able to use it, we need insulin. Remember that most diabetics have insulin problems.
  • Without insulin, the glucose will just remain in the blood and our cells wouldn’t have the energy it needs.
  • This may prompt our body to use fats for energy instead.
  • When we use fats for energy, our body releases the chemicals, ketones.

The problem in this scenario is that too many ketones could make the blood acidic in the condition we refer to diabetic ketoacidosis. This could lead to coma or even death.

Some of the symptoms of DKA that you need to watch out for are:

  • Exhaustion
  • Feeling really thirsty
  • Urinating more than usual
  • Signs of dehydration, like dry mouth

Please note that while DKA is more common with Type 1 diabetes, it could also happen to patients with Type 2 DM.

Other Physical Long-Term Effects of Uncontrolled Diabetes

Aside from the ones mentioned above, a person with poorly managed diabetes may also have compromised:

  • Immune system, since high blood glucose interferes with the production of white blood cells
  • Thyroid function, which could be overactive or under-active.
  • Sexual function; men could experience impotence or erectile dysfunction.

long-term effects of uncontrolled diabetes

Key Takeaways

Because there are a lot of long-term effects of uncontrolled diabetes, monitoring and managing your blood glucose levels are important. Consult your doctor regularly and talk to them about the lifestyle changes you need to take to prevent these complications. Additionally, take note of your mental health. With all the various factors like the need for medications and restrictions in diet, you may experience stress and anxiety.

Learn more about Diabetes here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mia Dacumos, MD

Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jul 05, 2021

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