Uncontrolled diabetes can be fatal. It can also lower quality of life.
People who do not manage the condition well may develop uncontrolled diabetes, which causes dangerously high blood glucose. This can trigger a cascade of symptoms, ranging from mood changes to organ damage.
People with type 1 diabetes, a disease that causes the body to attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, are diagnosed, typically, in childhood. However, as many as a third of adults with the most common type 2 diabetes variant of the disorder, do not know they have it. Without taking measures to treat it, these people can develop uncontrolled diabetes.
The following 10 symptoms are signs of uncontrolled diabetes. Anyone experiencing them should consult a doctor promptly.
High blood glucose readings are the most obvious symptom of uncontrolled diabetes.
As diabetes raises blood sugar levels, many people with diabetes think it is normal to have high blood glucose. Normally, however, diabetes medication and lifestyle changes should bring blood glucose within target ranges.
If blood glucose is still uncontrolled, or if it is steadily rising, it may be time for an individual to review their management plan.
Diabetes can harm the immune system, making people more prone to infections. A person with diabetes who suddenly gets more infections, or who takes longer to heal from an infection they have had before, should see a doctor.
Some of the most common infections associated with diabetes include:
• skin infections, such as cellulitis
• urinary tract infections
• yeast infections
Yeast feeds on sugar, and so the combination of lowered immunity and high blood glucose makes people with diabetes particularly at risk from frequent yeast infections.
Increased urination is known as polyuria. Most adults urinate 1-2 liters per day, but people with diabetes urinate 2-3 liters per day, and sometimes more.
People with diabetes urinate more frequently because the body tries to rid the blood of excess glucose. With uncontrolled sugars, people also drink more frequently, causing them to produce more urine.
A rare form of diabetes not related to blood glucose, called diabetes insipidus, can also increase urination.
People with diabetes sometimes experience polydipsia, a form of extreme thirst.
High blood glucose can make people with diabetes very dehydrated, so that they feel thirsty. It also undermines the body’s ability to absorb water. A person may feel an overwhelming need for water, may have a chronically dry mouth, or may feel dizzy.
Even though people with polydipsia drink more fluids, they can become dehydrated. Their blood glucose also tends to rise more often. This combination can lead to a life-threatening emergency called diabetic ketoacidosis.
Ketoacidosis occurs when uncontrolled blood sugar causes acids called ketones to build up in the blood. Symptoms can include dizziness, nausea, confusion, the loss of consciousness, abdominal pain and fruity-smelling breath.
People with diabetes who experience symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis should not wait to talk to a doctor. Ketoacidosis can be fatal, and must be treated immediately in an emergency room.
INCREASED APPETITE WITHOUT WEIGHT GAIN
Glucose helps fuel the body at every level, from supporting basic cell functions to enabling someone to run a marathon.
People with high blood glucose levels have inadequate access to their body’s glucose. This is caused by their insulin being unable to efficiently remove glucose from the blood. Hence, a person with diabetes cannot use glucose as well as other people, even if their glucose spikes.
This is why many people with diabetes feel very hungry, a condition called polyphagia. The body triggers hunger signs as it tries to gain access to fuel. As it cannot process glucose properly, the hunger continues.
Even though obesity is linked to type 2 diabetes, people with uncontrolled diabetes may not gain weight, even when they overeat. A big appetite accompanied by very little weight gain suggests the body is not getting all the energy it needs from food.
UNEXPLAINED WEIGHT LOSS
Just as some people with diabetes eat more without gaining weight, some actually lose weight. The two symptoms are both due to the same issue: decreased glucose metabolism.
Whether a person with diabetes loses weight or not depends on how well the body is using glucose, and how much that person is eating. Overeating accompanied by weight loss always necessitates a call to a doctor.
Many people with uncontrolled diabetes notice that their breath smells fruity, or very sweet.
When blood glucose rises very high, the body instead breaks down fat for energy. This creates a chemical called acetone that can have a fruity smell.
People in diabetic ketoacidosis may notice that their breath has a chemical smell, like nail polish remover. This is also due to acetone.
Over time, uncontrolled diabetes can injure the blood vessels, including the blood vessels in the kidneys. This affects their ability to filter the blood and can cause kidney disease.
People with both diabetes and kidney disease may experience the following symptoms:
• very dark or bloody urine
• frothy urine
• pain near the kidneys in the lower back
• chronic kidney or urinary tract infections
More often, however, kidney disease produces few or no symptoms in its early form.
People with diabetes often have cardiovascular symptoms, such as high blood pressure.
Insulin resistance can raise blood pressure. Diabetes is also linked to unhealthy cholesterol levels and obesity, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
High blood pressure, chest pain, or abnormal heart rhythms are important warning signs, whether they are due to diabetes or another condition, and should not be ignored.
TINGLING OR NUMBNESS
Uncontrolled diabetes can damage nerves throughout the body, particularly those that affect sensation in the hands or feet. Numbness or tingling may point to nerve damage.
Some people with diabetes experience nerve pain, which can feel like electrical sensations or burning. Though nerve pain can happen anywhere, it is especially common in the feet and hands.
The cardiovascular issues associated with diabetes can also interfere with circulation. When blood cannot flow easily through the body, people can experience ulcers, or even gangrene, in the legs or hands.
People who experience these symptoms should contact a doctor. Redness, swelling, or warmth in the legs is a medical urgency that needs immediate attention at an emergency room.