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The Consequences of Non-Treatment of Diabetes

written by: Tara Kimball • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 4/17/2011

Long-term high blood sugar can wreak havoc on many aspects of your body. This is a thorough look at the consequences of non-treatment of diabetes.

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    Cardiovascular and Nerve Damage

    Prolonged high blood sugar can cause damage to your blood vessels and cardiovascular system, resulting in cardiovascular disease. In fact, as much as 65 percent of the deaths related to diabetes complications are due to heart disease and stroke.

    Cardiovascular disease can reduce blood flow to your extremities. The lack of blood flow can damage nerves throughout your body causing a disorder referred to as diabetic neuropathy. Neuropathy can cause pain and tingling in the feet, legs and hands. Severe nerve damage in the extremities can require amputations. The Mayo Clinic reports that over 60 percent of leg and foot amputations that are not directly related to other injuries occur due to complications from poorly controlled diabetes.

    Nerve damage can also extend into the genital areas. Poor blood flow can hinder sexual response, resulting in erectile dysfunction. The resulting nerve damage may cause a loss of sensation in the genital area that can limit sexual performance. Nearly half of the men diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes have some form of erectile dysfunction. Joslin Diabetes Center reports that nerve damage is the most common cause of erectile dysfunction among diabetics.

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    Vision

    Blindness is one of the most serious among the consequences of non-treatment of diabetes. High blood sugars can contribute to glaucoma, cataracts and retinopathy, all of which can also result in blindness if not properly treated. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among United States patients. Proper vision care and blood sugar control can prevent as much as 90 percent of diabetic blindness cases.

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    Kidney Failure

    High blood glucose and the frequently accompanying high blood pressure strain the kidneys. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure due to this increased stress from poorly controlled blood glucose. Blood pressure medications can reduce the risk of kidney damage by 33 percent, even in patients who do not have high blood pressure.

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    Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease

    Recent studies have found that high blood sugars and the resulting vascular damage can also extend to the vascular system in the brain. Vascular dementia is known to exhibit in steady cognitive declines with a lack of focus, memory loss and difficulties with comprehension. Vascular dementia and cognitive changes that result can leave you more susceptible to the development and rapid progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

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    Diabetic Ketoacidosis

    Diabetic ketoacidosis is the most dangerous of the consequences of non-treatment of diabetes. Prolonged high blood sugar causes ketones deposited in your urine, produced because your body burns fat for energy since it is unable to properly utilize the glucose in the foods you are eating. Diabetic ketoacidosis, also known as DKA, exhibits in the early stages with a severe and incurable thirst along with increased frequency of urination.

    When these symptoms are ignored and untreated, the next symptoms to arrive include respiratory issues, nausea and vomiting, exhaustion and confusion. In severe cases, it leads to diabetic coma. The resulting dehydration from DKA can cause your body’s electrolytes to be out of balance, which is dangerous when your brain relies on the specific balance to function properly.