Who Cares About High Blood Sugar?

   Have you ever been told that you have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or high blood sugar? If so, it was probably detected through a random lab test – most people don’t notice any symptoms, at least at first. Since diabetes can be a silent disease, many patients wonder why it matters whether you treat it or not. Here’s some information that can help you decide whether you should get tested or treated for diabetes or pre-diabetes, even if you have no symptoms.

Diabetes that arises in adults – also called type 2 diabetes – is a condition in which your body’s cells stop being able to take up sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream. This means that extra sugar floats around in your blood, unable to be used by your body’s cells for energy. Over many years, that extra sugar circulating in the blood damages blood vessels, nerves, and many vital organs in your body. This damage eventually does lead to symptoms and many serious conditions, such as the following:

   • Pain, tingling, or numbness in your feet: Patients with uncontrolled blood sugar will often develop uncomfortable sensations in a symmetric fashion in their lower extremities, starting with the soles of their feet and traveling up. This happens because the small blood vessels and nerves of the feet get damaged by the extra sugar in the bloodstream. This condition is called diabetic neuropathy. A dangerous complication of diabetic neuropathy is if you cannot feel the bottom of your feet, you can step on something that leads to an infection – if left untreated, these foot infections in diabetic patients can get so serious that they lead to toe, foot, or leg amputation.

   • Blurry vision or blindness: Just as extra sugar in the bloodstream can damage nerves and blood vessels in your feet, it can also damage these same structures in your eyes. The symptoms of this damage include blurriness, dark spots in your visual fields, and eventual loss of vision (i.e., blindness). This condition is called diabetic retinopathy, and while it can take decades of uncontrolled blood sugar to develop, it is obviously a very unfortunate and life-altering complication of diabetes.

   • Protein or blood in your urine: If you have diabetes, regular follow-ups with a doctor would include checking for protein or blood in your urine. These tests are done to see how your kidneys are functioning. Long-term diabetes damages the structures in the kidneys, a condition called diabetic nephropathy. Kidney damage leads to many problems because the kidneys maintain the balance of electrolytes in your bloodstream and filter out toxins – functions that are vital for survival. Patients with extreme kidney damage eventually have to rely on dialysis machines to do the work of their kidneys for them, or they have to receive a kidney transplant.

   • Heart attack or stroke: Just as high blood sugar damages the nerves and blood vessels in the feet, eyes, and kidneys, it also affects the vessels in the heart and the brain. This leads to a much higher risk of heart attack and stroke in patients with diabetes.

   While these complications sound severe and scary, they all take years to develop – meaning that you have time to treat high blood sugar before it causes these serious problems. Luckily, there are many changes that you can make in your lifestyle to control blood sugar. There are also many different types of medications (aside from insulin) that help as well.

As always, PlushCare doctors are available for consultation about your diabetes or even if you’re just worried that you might have high blood sugar. Our doctors can order labs to test your blood sugar and can help you think through ways of modifying your lifestyle to prevent or treat diabetes. We can also provide prescription medications for the treatment of diabetes.

Doctor on phone
Anjali Dixit

Anjali Dixit

Dr. Anjali attended Stanford University and is continuing her training in anesthesiology at UCSF. She has a background in public health and an interest in how technologies can shape U.S. healthcare.

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