Short-Term Complications of Diabetes

The Short-Term Effect of High Blood Sugars

The short-term or acute effects of high blood sugars (hyperglycemia) vary from mild to severe. Generally sugars that are mildly elevated (<200 ng/dl) may go unnoticed for years. At these levels, symptoms may be very subtle or may not be present at all. Some of the first symptoms that those with diabetes mellitus notice are increased thirst, increased urination and weight loss. This primarily comes from an inability of the kidneys to filter and hold on to the extra sugar that is in the blood. When this happens, the excess sugar is released into the urine where osmosis then draws water from the blood into the urine as well. This can cause mild and occasionally severe dehydration. Additionally, over time the excretion of large amounts of sugars in the urine, which leave the body as unused calories, can cause significant unhealthy weight loss. In addition, high blood sugars may acutely cause fatigue, nausea, blurry vision and headaches. Let the endocrinologists at Houston Thyroid and Endocrine Specialists help guide you through the complications of diabetes mellitus.

The effects of high sugars on the immune system

High blood sugars appear to weaken the immune system and make diabetics predisposed to developing infections. Neutrophils as well as other several other immune responses, which are an important part of the immune system defense against bacterial and fungal infections, have been shown to function poorly when blood sugars are elevated. Several other factors which contribute to higher infection rates in diabetics include poor circulation, skin colonization of pathogens (organisms that causes infections) and a weakened nervous system. Common infections among diabetics are skin/foot infections, fungal infections and urinary tract infections.

In addition to making the development of infections more likely, high blood sugars appear to prevent those with pre-existing infections from recovering from those infections. Wounds also frequently develop in diabetics and may take much longer to heal- occasionally months to years if sugars are uncontrolled and infections go untreated.

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The severe effects of high blood sugars

Even apart from infections, high blood sugars can be life-threatening in the short-term if not managed properly. When blood sugars begin to consistently run >200-300 ng/dl without treatment, in certain patients this will lead to the most serious complication of acutely high blood sugars- Diabetic Ketoacidosis or DKA. Although classically found more commonly in Type 1 diabetic patients, we now know that Diabetic Ketoacidosis can also occur in those with Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis can develop when blood sugars are very uncontrolled and subsequent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances cause the blood acid levels to go to dangerously high levels. This can lead to episodes of vomiting, low blood pressure, kidney failure, coma and death. This syndrome should be immediately treated in the hospital with IV fluids, insulin and electrolyte replacement. It is entirely preventable by receiving proper early treatment for diabetes by a qualified physician.