COMPLICATIONS OF UNCONTROLLED DIABETES

Untreated or improperly managed diabetes can result in a variety of complications, some of which can be quite serious. The good news is by taking control of your diabetes, you can help minimize the risk of these complications.

SKIN PROBLEMS


Skin problems can occur in people with diabetes, including:
  • Bacterial infections, like sties (painful lumps near the edge of your eyelid) and carbuncles (a painful cluster of boils)
  • Itchy rashes in the folds of your skin (caused by yeast-like fungi)
  • Dry skin

High blood sugar can cause dehydration and poor circulation that may play a role in causing these problems.

You can prevent skin problems by taking care of your skin daily. If you think you have a bacterial or fungal infection, call your physician. For more information on skin care, check out our helpful resources.

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FOOT PROBLEMS

People who have diabetes are more likely to have foot problems, including:
  • Loss of sensation (numbness caused by nerve damage)
  • Dry skin
  • Cracked heels
  • Heavy callus formation
  • Changes in foot shape
  • Changes in nail growth
  • Painful foot ulcers
  • Slower healing

These problems are caused by poor circulation of the blood, which means less oxygen reaches the cells in the feet. Nerve damage usually is a result of poor blood sugar management over an extended period of time. Damaged nerves can cause you to have little or no sensitivity in your feet to temperature, pressure or pain. If your feet get too hot, maybe because of hot bath water, they can suffer a burn and you may not feel it. You may not feel injuries, such as when you step on a sharp object or when blisters form if your shoes are too tight. This loss of sensation makes the skin of the feet vulnerable. Damage can occur and you might not know it.

It is important to learn how to take care of your feet so that you can reduce or even prevent these problems. Find out more.

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GUM (PERIODONTAL) DISEASE

When sugar levels are high in the blood, they are also high in the saliva. Bacteria feed on saliva sugar and grow in the mouth, causing gum or “periodontal” disease. Periodontal disease, or infections in the mouth, can hurt your gums and bone, which hold teeth in place.

You can prevent periodontal disease by practicing good oral hygiene and making regular visits to your dentist.

Read more about oral care.

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LONG-TERM COMPLICATIONS

Over time, untreated or poorly managed diabetes can result in more serious health issues, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye damage, erectile dysfunction in males and nerve damage.

 

HEART DISEASE AND STROKE

People with diabetes are at very high risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, it is believed that heart disease may develop 10 to 15 years earlier in people with diabetes than in people without diabetes.

High blood sugar, being overweight (especially having excess abdominal fat), being inactive, and having high blood pressure and cholesterol are all contributing factors to the increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

It is important to work closely with your healthcare team to create a plan that addresses all of these risk factors.

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KIDNEY DISEASE

Kidney disease is a serious complication associated with poorly controlled diabetes. Over the years, high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels in the kidneys, preventing them from filtering blood properly. Without treatment, the kidneys will eventually fail.

Taking control of your blood sugar and blood pressure can help reduce the risk of kidney disease. Make sure you are testing your blood sugar regularly with your CONTOUR® meter. Remember, you don’t always feel high or low blood sugar. Testing with your CONTOUR® meter provides an accurate reading you can trust.

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EYE DAMAGE

Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in Canada. People with diabetes are more likely to develop cataracts at a younger age and are twice as likely to develop glaucoma, but diabetic retinopathy – a disease that affects the retina of the eye – is the biggest threat to vision in people with diabetes. Damage to blood vessels and swelling due to uncontrolled blood glucose are to blame for eye problems in diabetes.

Visiting your optometrist once a year and maintaining good control of blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol can all help prevent diabetic retinopathy and other vision related complications of diabetes.

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ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION (ED)

Erectile dysfunction is the persistent inability to get or maintain an erection that is satisfactory for sexual activity.

Older men with a longer duration of diabetes, poor blood glucose control, or who smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease or have lower than average levels of male hormones, are at highest risk of ED.

Diabetes causes damage to the walls of the blood vessels, which affects circulation and blood flow to the penis. In addition, nerve damage can affect erection quality. Erectile dysfunction can also be a side effect of drugs that are often prescribed to men with diabetes, including some blood pressure-lowering drugs.

There are medical treatments for ED, but maintaining good blood glucose is key to good vascular health as well. While it may be embarrassing to bring up the topic of ED to your healthcare professional, it is important to do so in order to identify exactly what is causing the problem and how best to treat it.

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Nerve damage

Exposure to high blood glucose levels over an extended period of time causes damage to the peripheral nerves – the nerves that go to the arms, hands, legs, and feet. This is called diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy increases the risk for foot ulcers and amputation. Due to nerve damage in their feet and toes, people with diabetes, who have diabetic peripheral neuropathy, often do not notice minor cuts, sores, or blisters in these areas. If left untreated, these small wounds can easily become infected, lead to gangrene, and may eventually require amputation of the affected area.

The good news is you can take control of your diabetes and reduce the risk of some of these complications by achieving and maintaining good blood glucose control and working closely and continuously with your healthcare team.

People who take charge of their diabetes can have average blood glucose levels near normal. Your A1C (or HbA1C) is a measure of average blood glucose over the previous 3 to 4 months. Lowering your A1C by just 1% can help reduce your risk of future problems such as eye disease, kidney disease and nerve damage. Learn more about how you can take control of your diabetes.

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