If your diabetes is not treated, it can lead to many different health problems. Large amounts of glucose can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs, and even a mildly raised glucose level that does not cause any symptoms can have damaging effects in the long term.
Heart disease and stroke
If you have diabetes, you are up to five times more likely to suffer heart disease and stroke compared with people without diabetes. Prolonged, poorly controlled blood glucose levels increase the likelihood of atherosclerosis (furring up and narrowing of the blood vessels). This may result in poor blood supply to the heart, causing angina. It also increases the chance that a blood vessel in your heart or brain will become completely blocked, causing a heart attack or stroke.
High blood glucose levels can damage the tiny blood vessels of your nerves. This can lead to a tingling or burning pain that spreads from your fingers and toes up through your limbs. If the nerves in your digestive system are affected, you may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation.
Retinopathy (damage to the retina at the back of the eye)
Blood vessels in the retina of your eye can become blocked, leaky or grow haphazardly. This prevents the light from fully passing through to your retina. If left untreated, it can damage your vision.
The better you control your blood sugar levels, the less chance you have of developing serious eye problems. Having an annual eye check by a specialist (an ophthalmologist or an optometrist) can help to pick up signs of any potentially serious eye problems early on, so that they can be treated.
If it is caught early enough, diabetic retinopathy can be treated using laser treatment. However, it is important to realise that this will only preserve the sight you have, not make it better.
If the small blood vessels of your kidney become blocked and leaky, your kidneys will work less efficiently. In rare, severe cases this can lead to kidney failure and the need for a kidney transplant.
Damage to the nerves of the foot can mean that small nicks and cuts are not noticed, leading to the development of a foot ulcer. About one in 10 people with diabetes get foot ulcers, which can cause serious infection.
Check your feet every day and report any changes to your doctor, nurse or podiatrist. Look out for sores and cuts that do not heal, puffiness, or swelling, and skin that feels hot to the touch. You should also have a foot examination at least once a year.
In men with diabetes (especially those who smoke), damage to the nerves and blood vessels can lead to erection problems. This may be treated with medication.
Women with diabetes may experience a reduced sex drive, reduced pleasure from sex, a lack of vaginal lubrication, a reduced ability to orgasm, or painful sex. Women who suffer from a lack of vaginal lubrication or painful sex may find a vaginal lubricant or water-based gel very helpful.
Miscarriage and stillbirth
Pregnant women with diabetes have an increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. If their blood sugar level is not carefully controlled in the early stages of pregnancy, there is also an increased risk of the baby developing a serious birth defect.
Pregnant women with diabetes will usually have their antenatal check-ups in hospital or in a diabetic clinic, where healthcare professionals can keep a close eye on their blood sugar levels and control their insulin dosage more easily.
Glucose (or dextrose) is a type of sugar that is used by the body to produce energy.
Blood vessels are the tubes in which blood travels to and from parts of the body. The three main types of blood vessels are veins, arteries and capillaries.
Angina is chest pain caused by a reduced flow of blood to the heart, typically resulting from heart disease.
Nausea is when you feel like you are going to be sick.
The retina is the nerve tissue lining the back of the eye, which senses light and colour and sends it to the brain as electrical impulses.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance made by the body that lives in blood and tissue. It is used to make bile acid, hormones and vitamin D.
High blood pressure
Hypertension is when the pressure of the blood in your bloodstream is regularly above 140/90 mmHG.