Diabetes can have many long term consequences. It can ultimately lead to kidney failure, heart disease, stroke, blindness, and loss of the toes, feet, and legs if not controlled. This is important to understand because most people with diabetes do not feel any different is their blood sugar is well controlled or poorly controlled. This can lead to the misconception that diabetes does not need to be controlled because people do not feel sick. Uncontrolled diabetes leads to damage of the micro-circulation of the body. These small blood vessels are crucially important as they bring blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the tissues and vital organs of the bodies. If these small blood vessels become damaged, damaged will occur to the tissues and organs they supply.
Kidney disease is common in patients with long term uncontrolled diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure in the US. If the kidneys do not function the body cannot remove toxins and excess fluids from the body. The kidneys are also necessary for maintaining the correct balance of electrolytes in the body. If the kidneys fail, patients will require dialysis or transplant to stay alive.
Heart disease is very common in diabetics with poor control. Over time the heart sustains damage when diabetes is not controlled leading to an eventual heart attack or dysfunction of the cardiac muscle.
The small blood vessels that supply the brain with oxygen and nutrients can get damaged over time if diabetes is poorly controlled. This can lead to stroke which can cause death or permanent disability.
The small blood vessels of the retina in the eye can become damaged if diabetes is not well controlled. This can lead to loss of eyesight and eventual blindness. Indeed, diabetes is the leading cause of non-congenital blindness in the US.
The extremities rely on these small blood vessels as well. People with poorly controlled diabetes are at significant risk of losing toes, feet, and legs. Small cuts that otherwise would heal without incident can become infected and not heal if the blood supply is compromised form long term poor control of diabetes. Diabetes is the number one cause of non-traumatic amputations in the US.
These complications of diabetes are significant but can be prevented with good management of diabetes. Diet, exercise, and proper medication use can all decrease the likelihood of these significant problems. It is very important to control diabetes well even if it is not causing immediate symptoms.