- If you have diabetes and don’t follow your treatment protocol, your diabetes can get out of control.
- Having consistently high blood sugar levels can cause symptoms such as frequent thirst, frequent urination, infections, numbness and tingling, and blurry vision.
- Over time, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications such as kidney disease, vision loss, and nerve and blood vessel damage.
Diabetes is one of the most common health conditions in the U.S., affecting about 9% of the population. If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, your provider will likely suggest treatment options to help manage your condition. However, if you don’t or cannot follow the treatment protocol, your diabetes can worsen. This is known as uncontrolled diabetes.
In this article, I’ll explain what uncontrolled diabetes is as well as its associated symptoms and possible health complications. I’ll also discuss various treatment options.
What Is Uncontrolled Diabetes?
If you have diabetes, following your provider’s recommended treatment plan is incredibly important. Medications and lifestyle changes help to keep your blood glucose, or blood sugar, at a safe level. Without these treatment methods, you risk dangerously high blood glucose. This can cause various symptoms and serious health complications affecting your vision, circulation, hearing, organs, and more.
Some people disregard their worsening symptoms because they think diabetes is a chronic condition that gradually becomes worse and worse. However, this is not always the case. If you recognize symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes, contact your provider, because early intervention can prevent long-term damage.
Symptoms of Uncontrolled Diabetes
There are a wide variety of uncontrolled diabetes symptoms. If you have diabetes and notice any of the following, call your provider.
Hyperglycemia, also known as high blood sugar, is a hallmark of diabetes.
It can cause:
- Fruity smelling breath
- Skin that lacks tension
- Extreme thirst
- Excessive urination
When you have diabetes for a long period, it can cause circulation problems and nerve damage. Peripheral nerve damage is particularly common and affects the extremities, including the feet. Your feet can develop infections and sores and may heal slowly.
You might also experience:
- Increased sensitivity
First, your kidneys may be unable to manage high blood sugar levels, so they excrete glucose into your urine.
Second, along with the glucose, the kidneys filter the blood and pull out excess water. High glucose increases that effect and, because of this, you feel very thirsty. This can make you drink more, causing frequent urination.
As discussed above, polydipsia, or excessive thirst, goes hand-in-hand with frequent urination.
Some people experience fatigue because of diabetic ketoacidosis, which I’ll discuss in the next section. You might feel tired, weak, and lethargic.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) usually occurs in type 1 diabetes. It’s caused by inadequate or missed insulin doses and infections.
When you have DKA, your body’s tissues can’t take glucose from the blood into the cells. This means your body has to use fat as an energy source. The condition can cause:
Polyphagia, or excessive hunger, is another symptom of diabetes. When your blood sugar is too low, you can feel weak, lightheaded, and tired. This can make you feel very hungry as your body seeks more energy.
However, in uncontrolled diabetes, your blood sugar levels stay abnormally high. A lack of insulin or insulin resistance can make it hard for cells to absorb glucose from the blood. Essentially, this means your body can’t convert food into energy. This causes excessive hunger, as the body is constantly seeking that energy.
Diabetes frequently causes vision problems. This is typically due to nerve damage that gradually causes vision loss over time. Your eyes may become more sensitive to light, and you may have blurry vision. When left untreated, diabetes can cause blindness.
This symptom is more common in type 1 diabetes and may be a byproduct of DKA. However, if type 2 diabetes goes undetected for a long time, it may cause weight loss. Other causes include nerve damage affecting the stomach and digestive system. These can cause bowel problems, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Combined, these complications may make you lose weight.
Typically, diabetes-related hearing loss happens because of nerve damage. According to the CDC, people with diabetes are twice as likely as those who do not have diabetes to have hearing loss.
If you have uncontrolled diabetes, constantly high blood glucose can damage blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. Low blood sugar may also cause this.
In people with uncontrolled diabetes, constantly high blood sugar levels damage the lining of blood vessels. This makes it harder for blood to flow through the vessels properly and can slow blood circulation.
Although you may not notice that you have circulation problems right away, it can cause other more noticeable symptoms like wounds and infections that don’t heal, dry skin, and loss of feeling in your hands and feet.
Increased skin conditions
Circulation problems commonly cause skin conditions. People with diabetes are more likely to have ulcers, hair loss, and dry, sagging skin. You may also develop skin problems if you have infections or open wounds that don’t heal.
Complications of Uncontrolled Type 2 Diabetes
When diabetes is unchecked for long periods, issues like circulation problems can cause serious and long-lasting complications. Diabetes can also weaken your immune system, putting you at a higher risk of complications from other infections and diseases.
Diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S. Over time, high blood glucose damages the blood vessels and nerves in the eye. At first, this may cause blurry vision or sensitivity in your eyes. Left untreated, it can cause blindness.
Uncontrolled diabetes can cause nerve damage. This can cause a range of issues—from minor numbness and tingling to severe pain—and significantly impact a person’s life. Unfortunately, it is a relatively common complication. According to the CDC, half of those living with diabetes have nerve damage.
If you catch it early, you can manage nerve damage, so contact your provider if you think you may be experiencing nerve damage. Some of the signs include:
- Loss of feeling
- Inability to maintain an erection
High blood glucose levels can cause organ damage. One of the organs commonly affected is the kidneys.
Your kidneys are responsible for eliminating toxins and excreting them through your urine, so if they aren’t working properly, you can experience serious complications. If they stop working entirely, you may need a transplant or dialysis.
The CDC recommends that people with diabetes get their kidneys checked regularly with blood and urine tests. This can help you identify chronic kidney disease early, which is important because the condition has few symptoms and is hard to detect without testing.
High blood glucose can also damage your heart’s nerves and blood vessels. People with diabetes are also more likely to have other conditions that increase their heart disease risk. Some of these include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- High triglycerides (fat in the blood)
Over time, high blood glucose damages the blood vessels. One of the complications of blood vessel damage is stroke. In particular, people with diabetes are at a higher risk of cerebral small vessel disease. This affects the small blood vessels that supply blood to the white matter and deep structures in the brain.
Type 2 Diabetes Treatment Options
If you have type 2 diabetes, your provider will likely recommend a treatment plan of medications and lifestyle changes. They might prescribe metformin, one of the most common drugs used to manage blood sugar, or another medication. In some cases, you may need a combination of multiple medications.
You can also take steps in your everyday life. Eat a nutritious, balanced diet; be physically active on a regular basis; and stop smoking if applicable. Additionally, it can be beneficial to lose body weight if you are overweight. Contact your provider to discuss a safe and sustainable weight-loss plan if you’re interested.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Diabetes and Stroke: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, Pharmaceuticals and Outcomes. (2016.)
Diabetes Mellitus. (2022.)
Diabetes Mellitus Type 2. (2022.)
Know the signs and symptoms of diabetes. (2014.)
Living With Diabetes. (2022.)
Long-term complications of diabetes. (2020.)
What is Diabetes? (2016.)