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6 Unexpected Side Effects of Diabetes

Written by Mia Dacumos, MD · Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Updated Oct 18, 2022

6 Unexpected Side Effects of Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition that involves problems in how the body turns food into energy. For those who suffer from diabetes, there are a wide range of effects on their health. These range from fatigue to conditions that develop over time such as cardiovascular disease. We all know that diabetes can cause an erratic rise and fall of sugar levels. However, there is more to this condition. Here are 6 unexpected side effects of diabetes:

6 Unexpected Side Effects of Diabetes

1. Vision Impairment

One of the most common among the 6 unexpected side effects of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy. In this condition, high blood sugar levels cause damage to the retina, which is the light-sensitive layer of the eye that sends signals to the brain for vision.

Among diabetics whose blood sugar levels are high, blood vessels in the retina may swell and leak. The affected blood vessels can also prevent blood from passing. And this deprives the retina of nutrients needed for it to function. There are also times when abnormal blood vessels develop on the retina itself. 

Diabetic retinopathy typically affects both eyes. Symptoms include:

  • Seeing an excessive number of floaters
  • Blurred or dark spots in the field of vision
  • Night blindness
  • Experiencing colors that look dull

2. Nerve Damage

When blood sugar levels are poorly controlled, over time, this will put you at risk for one or more of the 6 unexpected side effects of diabetes.

Having high blood sugar and decreased blood flow can lead to damage in other parts of the body. This can result in nerve cell damage in people with diabetes, called diabetic neuropathy. 

Diabetic neuropathy often happens in the nerves of the toes, feet and legs. And if those with diabetes do not manage blood sugar levels properly, as time passes, it progresses to the hands and fingers.

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include: 

  • A tingling or “pins and needles” sensation in your fingertips or toes
  • A burning sensation
  • Deep pain 
  • Numbness
  • Weak grip

It is possible for diabetic neuropathy to affect the nerves that control digestion as well. And if this happens, diabetes can become harder to manage. Doctors have observed that if a person is suffering from severe nerve damage in their feet or legs, they might also be suffering from nerve damage in the gut.

3. Kidney Disease

Type 2 diabetes and type 1 diabetes are both associated with diabetic nephropathy, one of the unexpected side effects of diabetes. This condition is also called diabetic kidney disease and is classified as a serious kidney complication. 

A person with diabetic nephropathy has difficulty removing waste products and extra fluid from their body. 

Because the kidneys work harder to compensate for failing capillaries, diabetic kidney disease does not cause symptoms until almost all of the kidneys’ functions have been lost. Additionally, kidney disease does not have a specific set of symptoms. 

Fluid buildup or edema is often one of the early signs of kidney disease. Other symptoms of kidney disease include:

  • Frothy or foamy urine
  • Pink or reddish-colored urine
  • Loss of sleep 
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue 
  • Poor appetite
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • More frequent infections
  • Problems focusing

If a patient receives treatment early, it is possible to prevent or slow the progression of diabetic nephropathy and reduce its complications. 

4. Skin Problems

Another of the unexpected side effects of diabetes is skin problems such as blisters and patches. 

Diabetic Dermopathy

Diabetic dermopathy causes light brown or reddish, oval or round, indented, scaly patches. These patches usually occur on the shins, legs and feet. This condition is also known as shin spots or pigmented pretibial patches.

Diabetes mellitus patients are more likely than others to develop these lesions, which may appear after an injury or trauma.

Diabetic Bullae

Diabetes bullae, or bullosis diabeticorum, are non-inflammatory blisters on the feet and hands of diabetic patients. 

For those who do not know they have diabetes, diabetic bullae is a distinct indicator of the condition.   

unexpected side effects of diabetes

Diabetic Stiff Skin

In patients with long-term type 1 diabetes, diabetic cheiroarthropathy (or diabetes-related stiff skin) can develop. When this condition occurs, a patient may find that their joints are restricted. This results in stiff, thickened, waxy and yellowed skin. 

5. Cardiovascular Disease

Developing a stroke or a heart attack is one of the unexpected side effects of diabetes that can occur over time, particularly if blood sugar levels are not managed properly. 

Diabetes increases a person’s risk for heart attack or stroke since high blood pressure and high cholesterol are associated with diabetes. When high blood pressure occurs, the force of the blood through arteries can damage artery walls. Connected to nerve damage, diabetes can also damage the nerves of the heart. As a result, diabetics are also more likely to suffer from heart failure. 

Diabetes is a chronic condition; that is why early diagnosis and treatment are important to slow or stop the progression of cardiovascular disease.

6. Gum Disease

Blood vessels change as a result of diabetes, and these changes may ultimately affect even your gums. Thickened blood vessels can limit the supply of nutrients and the removal of waste. This reduced blood flow can weaken gums and bones, making diabetic patients susceptible to gum disease.

When diabetes is not controlled well, higher levels of glucose (blood sugar) can also be found in mouth fluids. This encourages the growth of harmful bacteria. 

In combination with poor oral hygiene, these diabetes-related factors can result in periodontitis — an infection of the gums that is one of the unexpected side effects of diabetes. This infection affects the tissues and the bone that keep teeth in place. When untreated, periodontal disease can cause blood sugar levels to rise. This also makes it difficult to keep diabetes under control.

Key Takeaways

We all know that diabetes can cause an abnormal rise and fall of blood sugar levels. On its own, this already has many harmful effects on your health. But apart from irregular blood sugar levels, diabetes can also cause other diseases. These unexpected side effects of diabetes include vision impairment, nerve damage, kidney disease, skin problems, cardiovascular disease and gum disease.  

Learn more about Diabetes here.


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

Written by

Mia Dacumos, MD

Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Updated Oct 18, 2022

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