What Are Complications of Uncontrolled Diabetes?

Medically Reviewed on 12/14/2022
What Are Complications of Uncontrolled Diabetes
Uncontrolled diabetes can result in life-threatening complications and reduce life expectancy

It is common for many people with diabetes to develop complications later in life. Poor management of diabetes or being unaware of your condition and continuing your regular lifestyle can cause high blood sugar levels in your body. 

Uncontrolled diabetes can result in life-threatening complications such as heart disease and nerve damage and reduce life expectancy.

11 complications of uncontrolled diabetes

1. Cardiovascular diseases

  • High blood sugar levels increase the risk of cholesterol deposits building up on blood vessel walls.
  • These deposits solidify and form plaques over time, narrowing the arteries and restricting blood flow, leading to atherosclerosis.
  • Sometimes unstable plaques rupture, triggering a damaging chain of events.
  • Platelets are drawn to the location, resulting in the formation of a blood clot, which can block or entirely stop blood flow in smaller arteries.
  • That part of the body receives less oxygen than usual, resulting in the failure of one or more tissues. This raises the risk of heart attack and stroke

2. Neuropathy

  • When arteries are damaged due to high blood sugar, blood circulation to the nerves decreases, which leads to reduced nerve function.
  • Furthermore, elevated blood sugar levels impair the capacity of nerves to deliver messages which can lead to diabetic neuropathy.
  • When this occurs in the arms and legs, it is called peripheral neuropathy. When it occurs in the major organ systems, such as the digestive and reproductive systems, it causes a wide range of symptoms and complications.
  • Any nerve in the body can be impacted, including the autonomic nervous system, which includes the nerves of the heart.

3. Retinopathy

  • Most people with diabetes will acquire some eye disease (retinopathy), which may result in impaired vision or blindness.
  • The major causes of retinopathy include persistent high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

4. Nephropathy

  • Over time, high blood sugar levels can accumulate in blood vessels in the kidneys. Eventually, the kidneys lose their ability to filter blood and eliminate waste through urine.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes puts people at an increased risk of developing diabetic nephropathy, which can cause kidney damage. Approximately one-third of people with diabetes mellitus develop kidney (renal) damage. 
  • If renal issues worsen and lead to end-stage renal disease and the kidneys lose most of their function, treatment involves dialysis or a kidney transplant.

5. Foot issues

  • Uncontrolled diabetes can cause foot and leg sores, which are difficult to treat and can lead to infection.
  • In severe circumstances, amputation may be required.
  • Diabetes can also affect the nerves in the foot, causing numbness and tingling.

6. Skin issues

  • Due to damage to the tiny blood vessels and nerves in the body, diabetes can cause extremely dry skin, particularly on the soles of the feet.
  • Scratching dry skin can make the skin more vulnerable to infection.

7. Oral complications

  • People with diabetes are more likely to develop gum inflammation (periodontitis) if their blood sugar levels are not properly managed.
  • Periodontitis is a leading cause of tooth loss and is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Regular oral check-ups can ensure early diagnosis and prompt treatment of any oral problems. Annual checkups are advised if you have symptoms of gum disease, such as bleeding when brushing your teeth or swollen gums.

8. Hypoglycemia

9. Hyperglycemia

10. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)

  • DKA is caused by an excess of ketones in the blood and can result in a diabetic coma or even death.
  • When your cells do not receive the glucose they require for energy, your body begins to break down fat for energy, resulting in ketone production. When ketones accumulate in the blood, they make it more acidic.
  • DKA can occur in anyone with diabetes but is more common in type II diabetes. DKA often requires hospitalization.

11. Hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS)

  • HHS occurs when your blood sugar levels remain abnormally high for an extended time, resulting in acute dehydration and disorientation.
  • It usually arises when the body either does not make enough insulin or has difficulty utilizing the insulin produced.
  • Excess sugar is excreted in the urine, and as blood sugar levels rise, the urination frequency increases. This can lead to severe dehydration and excessive thirst
  • HHS is more common in people with uncontrolled type II diabetes.

What happens when diabetes is uncontrolled?

Uncontrolled diabetes indicates that your blood sugar levels or HbA1c are substantially higher than normal. A blood glucose (sugar) level of 180 mL/dL or higher is considered high.

Diabetes is a disorder in which the body is unable to use the insulin generated or there is an insulin shortage in the body, causing blood glucose levels to increase. Insulin is a hormone that assists the cells of the body to allow glucose to exit the circulation and enter the cells. In people with diabetes, glucose cannot enter cells, and they eventually develop an urge to consume more food. Polyphagia (urge of eating excess calories) is reported by people with uncontrolled diabetes.

If you are diagnosed with diabetes, your healthcare professional will most likely recommend treatment choices to help you manage your condition. However, if you do not or are unable to adhere to the treatment program, your diabetes may worsen, leading to uncontrolled diabetes.

What is the most common cause of uncontrolled diabetes?

Sometimes, people are unaware that they have diabetes. Type II diabetes can develop slowly, with few warning signs and symptoms, until blood sugar levels have risen out of control. Severe hyperglycemia caused by uncontrolled diabetes is mostly associated with type II diabetes; both type I and II diabetes can be uncontrolled.

In the absence of insulin, the glucose generated during digestion remains in circulation rather than entering the cells. Blood sugar levels rise without intervention, and people can get extremely sick.

Diabetes must be checked and controlled regularly to ensure that blood sugar levels remain steady and within a safe range. Uncontrolled diabetes can be caused by several reasons, including:

  • Inadequate nutrition or poor diet
  • Insufficient physical activity
  • Other health issues that may interfere with diabetes treatment
  • Other medications that can interact with diabetes treatment
  • Incorrect dose or wrong type of diabetes medication
  • Skipping doses of diabetes medication
  • Some mental health disorders (such as depression) may impair a person's ability to manage diabetes appropriately


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Can you recover from uncontrolled diabetes?

Diabetes is a treatable condition. Several approaches can cure type II diabetes and achieve long-term remission.

More than 80% of people with diabetes can expect to benefit from lifestyle modifications, such as low-calorie diets, weight loss, and exercise. Many can expect total diabetes remission and the ability to live without medications.

Bariatric surgery may help with diabetes reversal in severely obese people with a body mass index greater than 40 kg/m2. However, bariatric surgery is done only for people with severe obesity. According to statistics, only a small percentage of people with diabetes are severely obese.

How to manage diabetes

It is important to manage your blood sugar levels to avoid the dangerous complications of diabetes. The following lifestyle adjustments are can help with blood sugar control:

  • Diet
    • Eat enough protein and fiber, particularly from whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, beans, and legumes.
    • Avoid sugar and processed carbs because they can elevate blood sugar levels.
  • Exercise
    • Regular exercise decreases blood sugar and pressure levels and improves blood flow.
    • Engage in 30 to 60 minutes of daily physical exercise. However, speak to your doctor before starting a workout program.
  • Medication
    • People with type II diabetes are usually prescribed oral medications. However, type I diabetics need insulin therapy.
    • Take your medications as prescribed to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

How to prevent diabetes complications

  • Get frequent checkups
    • If you have not been diagnosed with diabetes yet but have a significant family history of the disease, get frequent check-ups and have your A1c measured at each visit.
    • Make sure to focus on eating fewer carbs and fats, and more fruits and vegetables.
  • Check your blood sugar levels regularly
    • Maintain continuous contact with your physician regarding your blood sugar levels.
    • If your blood sugar levels are out of range, call your provider immediately so that your medications or other treatments can be adjusted.
Medically Reviewed on 12/14/2022
Image Source: Getty image

Complications of Uncontrolled Type 2 Diabetes. https://www.inspirahealthnetwork.org/news/complications-uncontrolled-type-2-diabetes

Diabetes. https://familydoctor.org/condition/diabetes/

How Does Diabetes Affect Your Body? https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/risks-complications-uncontrolled-diabetes