10 Long-Term Effects of Hyperglycemia
Hyperglycemia, though also seen in drug related and physiologically stressful situations, is a characteristic sign of diabetes mellitus. The long-term effects of hyperglycemia, especially in those with untreated diabetes or poor compliance with diabetic treatment, are a result of high blood sugar levels over a long period of time. However, though temporary hyperglycemia does have adverse affect on the body, the damage is not so severe as chronic hyperglycemia. Here are some of the long-term effects of hyperglycemia.
Blood Vessel Injury
The cells present in the walls of blood vessels absorb glucose directly from the blood without the need of insulin. So, when the blood sugar levels are high, they become overloaded with glucose, and when it happens over a long period of time, the blood vessels will be damaged. The cell walls become thick and weak, causing them to block the blood flow to the organs with small blood vessels, especially the nerves.
Hyperglycemic effects over long-term also include nerve damage. As the nervous system, apart from the cells in blood vessel walls, also absorbs glucose directly from the blood, chronic hyperglycemia can affect its functioning and health severely. Another reason for diabetic neuropathy is the damage to blood vessels that supply blood to the nerves. This deprives the nerves of glucose, oxygen and other nutrients necessary for their normal functioning.
The eyes also depend on the small blood vessels for supply of food and oxygen. When they are supplied with blood that has high levels of glucose, the membrane between retina and blood thickens and gets damaged. This will lead to leakage of blood and fluids into the eye, resulting in swelling of the internal parts, and changes in vision. If left untreated, it can lead to total blindness.
Hyperglycemia can affect the kidneys in a very significant way. Kidneys are the organs responsible for filtering the blood for the wastes, toxins or excess substances and discharging them through urine. In case of chronic hyperglycemia, the kidneys are subject to constant work load along with the damage excess glucose does to them. In worst cases, the kidney might fail and needs to be transplanted or requires dialysis.
Hyperglycemia implies that the body has become increasingly insulin resistant or is not receiving enough insulin (as in the case of type 1 diabetes). Presence of hyperglycemia can affect the blood circulatory system in many ways; it can increase the rigidity of the blood vessels increasing the blood pressure; increased insulin resistance also decreases the body’s ability to process harmful fat which circulates in the blood and accumulates on the walls increasing blood pressure and possibly blocking blood flow.
Feet and legs suffer severely with chronic hyperglycemia effects. Owing to reasons such as gravity or lack of enough movement in the legs, and the distance from the heart, first the small blood vessels and then the others start to get dysfunctional. Lack of blood supply causes the cells to die, resulting in overall organ death, and requires amputation of the affected foot.
Poor blood flow to the skin can cause many problems. From normal allergies to complicated skin problems, diabetics with improper treatment are prone be easy victims of skin problems. The healing ability of the body to these injuries and infections will also decrease with hyperglycemia, as the supply of oxygen and nutrients is impaired. Another complication is the inability for the wounds to heal, the process is either slowed down or completely halted (in severe cases when there is no blood flow).
Hyperglycemia can result in ischemia (blockage of blood supply to any part of the brain). This can cause loss of brain function and in turn, can cause loss of bodily functions such as movement, sight and even speech. Other problems that can arise include improper coordination and balance, changes in consciousness, and urinary or bladder incontinence.
The fluctuation in blood sugar levels directly affects the mind and can bring about negative changes in the mood. With inadequate blood flow to the brain and blood that is of unhealthy composition because of high blood sugar level, can change the moods and psychological state. However, if a diabetic already has depression, it might make diabetes management worse if not properly treated.
Changes in the Level of Consciousness
When the blood sugar levels are severely high, there will be an increased amount of dehydration in the body. In the case of type 1 diabetes, and rarely in type 2, severe hyperglycemia can trigger diabetic ketoacidosis (or DKA, caused by excess ketones in the blood as a result of burning fat for energy); where as, in type 2 diabetes, it can lead to nonketonic hyerglycemia, which increases fluid loss. In both cases, there will be signs of stupor, decrease in levels of consciousness, and if left untreated, it can lead to coma and even death.
Keeping the blood sugar levels in the normal range by following a low glycemic diet along with regular exercise and medication can prevent the long-term
effects of hyperglycemia
. If you are already suffering from any of the above complications, it is never too late. You can always start with a simple walk everyday and proceed to regular physical activity that can keep your blood sugar levels under control.