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How do you know if your diabetes is getting worse?

Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition, and if left unmanaged, it can get worse over time. We explore what uncontrolled diabetes looks like, including some uncontrolled diabetes symptoms, and what you can do to regain control of your blood sugar.
Simon Lovick
9/13/2022
10
min read
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Quick summary

  • Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition but its symptoms can change depending on the way you manage it.
  • The frequent need to urinate, constant hunger and thirst, and extreme fatigue are all common symptoms of uncontrolled type diabetes.
  • Left completely unmanaged, type 2 diabetes can have serious health consequences including vision loss, kidney disease, and heart disease.
  • Many of the outcomes of uncontrolled diabetes are avoidable by monitoring symptoms and seeking medical advice, while making changes to your exercise routine and diet can help regain control of your blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition. Its symptoms, however, can change significantly depending on the way you manage it.

At Habitual, we’re proud to share our plan that can help you limit the risk of your type 2 diabetes diagnosis, and even reverse the effects that it has on you. But type 2 diabetes can go the other way. If you leave it unmanaged, by ignoring the lifestyle changes you need to implement in order to limit your risk, your symptoms can get worse. Uncontrolled type 2 diabetes can see a number of symptoms arise, ranging from discomfort to chronic health problems. 

In this article, we’ll explore some of the uncontrolled diabetes symptoms, as well as some of the more serious health conditions it can lead to. Then, by understanding what causes type 2 diabetes to worsen, we identify what you can do to reverse these effects, and regain control of your blood sugar levels. 

What is uncontrolled diabetes?

We talk about ‘controlling’ your type 2 diabetes, through medication—or at Habitual, through diet, exercise, and on-going support. 

Uncontrolled diabetes, therefore, is the opposite of this, when you neglect to manage your diagnosis and don’t avoid the things that can increase its risk. 

Medically, uncontrolled diabetes is diagnosed when your blood glucose (sugar) levels are 180 millilitres per deciliter (ml/dL) or higher.[1] You may have heard this referred to as hyperglycemia. In the long term, this can cause serious strain to your body, specifically your organs, your nerves, and your blood vessels. This is because excess glucose in your body is toxic to your organs and tissues, and can seriously damage them over time. 

Initial uncontrolled diabetes symptoms

So how do you know if your diabetes is getting worse?

People with type 2 diabetes will know that it doesn’t develop overnight—it takes years to emerge. The same goes for uncontrolled diabetes. This means that, leaving your diabetes unmanaged, you’ll start to see one or a number of these symptoms emerge and get worse over time. 

One very common symptom of uncontrolled diabetes is the frequent need to urinate, known as polyuria. Normally when your kidneys create urine, they absorb your blood sugar and funnel it back to the bloodstream: but high blood sugar means that you have an excess of glucose. This then ends up in your urine, drawing more fluid into your kidneys, and leading to increased urination. People with high blood sugar, therefore, may find themselves going to the toilet several times during the night and throughout the day.[2]

The other two most common symptoms are constant hunger and thirst. Persistent hunger, or polyphagia, is caused by the fact that uncontrolled diabetes blocks glucose from entering cells, in order to be converted into energy. This message, that you need to consume more food in order to take up this energy, is then communicated to the brain. Constant thirst, or polydipsia, is related to increased urination, and the dehydration that happens as a result.[3]

There are a number of other symptoms that can arise out of uncontrolled diabetes. These include, but aren’t limited to:[4]

  • Extreme fatigue - linked to other risk factors, like being overweight/obese, sleep problems, stress
  • Blurry vision - spikes in blood sugar can cause a build-up of fluids in the eye, causing short-term changes to the shape of the lens [5]
  • Weight loss - it sounds counter to other messaging, but constantly high blood sugar levels can break down muscle mass (heavier than fat). Frequent urination also means a loss of water weight in your body [6]
  • Hearing loss - exact link is not quite known, but the risk is much higher in patients with uncontrolled diabetes
  • Bacterial or fungal skin infections - this includes pain, itchiness, rashes, blisters, or boils, styes on your eyelids, or inflamed hair follicles [6]
  • Circulation problems - linked to a condition called peripheral arterial disease (PAD), caused by a buildup of plaque around the body. Symptoms include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs, or joint and muscle cramping [7]

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Health complications that can arise out of type 2 diabetes

Left completely unmanaged, type 2 diabetes can have quite serious health complications.

One of these complications is vision loss. While it may start with blurry vision, this can develop into serious eye conditions which can result in you losing your vision—including glaucoma, cataracts, or retinopathy. 

There’s also a risk of kidney disease. High blood glucose levels will result in excessive strain on your kidneys, which over time, can result in kidney disease. This can cause a number of related problems, including loss of sleep, loss of appetite, weakness, upset stomach, and trouble concentrating. 

Heart disease is another risk associated with uncontrolled diabetes. This is because high blood sugar levels can damage your cardiovascular system. This puts you at far higher risk of having a stroke or a heart attack. 

How to avoid uncontrolled diabetes

These possible outcomes might seem scary—but remember, all of these are avoidable. As the name suggests, uncontrolled diabetes only happens when you lose control of the way you manage your condition. 

Keeping a close eye on these symptoms is of high importance. Symptoms are essentially your body sending out a warning signal, flagging up that something bad is going to happen if you don’t take action. If you’re proactive about spotting these symptoms, you stand a good chance of avoiding serious health complications or chronic illness. So if you notice skin conditions, circulatory or digestive problems, vision loss, or other symptoms, make an appointment as soon as possible with a doctor.

There are also a number of things you can do to regain control of your blood sugar levels. Making serious changes to your diet is one of the most effective ways of doing this. We’d recommend a diet rich in fresh vegetables, protein, and unsaturated fats, while opting for complex carbohydrates (wholemeal pasta, rice, bread, etc) rather than simple carbs. 

Simultaneously, you should implement a good exercise regime. Exercise causes your body to use sugar reserves, which are then topped up from your bloodstream, thus lowering your blood sugar levels. Exercise will also have a good impact on your metabolism, increasing your basal metabolic rate (BMR) that increases the number of calories you burn simply by being alive. It can also help you lose weight, which has a strong correlation with type 2 diabetes remission

Monitoring your body is also important to see how it is responding to your lifestyle. This means regularly recording your blood sugar levels, your cholesterol levels, and your blood pressure. Some people may even opt for continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), where you wear a small device under your skin which sends signals to your phone about your blood sugar levels. This is good for identifying good habits, as well as when you might be approaching any risk.

You should also feel proactive about managing your type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Doing so will help you put this lifelong illness into remission, seriously limiting the risk it poses you in the long term. 

References

[1] 5 Complications of Uncontrolled Type 2 Diabetes. Healthline. Retrieved 18 May 2022. Accessible here.

[2] Triplitt, C.L. (2012). Understanding the kidneys' role in blood glucose regulation. Am J Managed Care;18(1). Accessible here.

[3] Christ-Crain, M. (2019). EJE AWARD 2019: new diagnostic approaches for patients with polyuria polydipsia syndrome. Eur J Endocrinol;181(1). Accessible here.

[4] Uncontrolled Diabetes Symptoms. Verywell Health. Retrieved 18 May 2022. Accessible here .

[5] What is Diabetic Retinopathy? Verywell Health. Retrieved 18 May 2022. Accessible here.

[6] Diabetes Symptoms. Center for Disease Control. Retrieved 18 May 2022. Accessible here.

[7] Peripheral arterial disease. NHS UK. Retrieved 18 May 2022. Accessible here.

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