How Does Diabetes Affect Your Body?

Over 37 million people are living with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Type 2 diabetes—brought on by lifestyle—is the most common type of diabetes by far, making up more than 90-95% of cases in the United States. Type 1 diabetes has genetic origins and accounts for a smaller percentage of cases.

If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, you have high blood glucose, or blood sugar, in your body. High blood sugar occurs when there are issues with insulin—a hormone that moves glucose to cells in the body for energy, per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

If insulin is not present or does not work properly, you'll end up with too much glucose in your body, which could potentially lead to health issues in the future. Here's what you should know about how diabetes affects the body.

What Happens in the Body When You Have Diabetes?

The effects that diabetes has on your body depend on which type of diabetes you have. The major types of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is hypothesized to have aspects of autoimmunity, according to MedlinePlus. Your body stops making insulin (or makes too little insulin) because your immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin. The NIDDK noted that people who have this type of diabetes need insulin every day.

If you have type 2 diabetes, your body does not make enough insulin or the insulin does not function properly to keep your blood sugar levels down. In the case of this type of diabetes, the use of insulin may vary.

Additionally, for those who have type 2 diabetes—and some who have type 1 diabetes—the muscles, fat, and liver that normally take up blood sugar and use it for energy begin to lose their sensitivity to insulin. This is a condition known as insulin resistance, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

In a person with insulin resistance, the pancreas responds by churning out even more of the hormone. Even though insulin levels may increase to a degree, even the increased amount is not sufficient to prevent blood sugar from becoming too high.

What Can Happen if Diabetes Is Left Untreated?

If an individual continues to have high blood sugar that remains untreated, this can make way for other health issues across the body. According to the NIDDK, issues could consist of:

  • Stroke
  • Nerve damage
  • Heart, kidney, or dental disease
  • Eye or foot problems

Untreated diabetes can also lead individuals to have memory or thinking problems. For example, researchers of an International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study published in April 2019 found that participants over the age of 45 who had untreated diabetes had cognitive impairment, especially with episodic memory (remembering previous experiences).

Additionally, MedlinePlus indicated that, in the long run, diabetes can also make a person more susceptible to bone diseases, digestive issues, infections, and depression.

Disease Management

Managing diabetes begins with collaboration between you and your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can give you an individualized treatment plan based on the type of diabetes or other health complications you have.

Additionally, MedlinePlus recommended seeing your healthcare provider every three months, but the timing could be different based on your case. Your healthcare provider will be able to let you know if there are any diabetes-related complications going on with your body—if you come to them with symptoms or not.

Medications, diet, and exercise are usually included in the treatment of diabetes. According to the ADA, medicines might include oral medications with or without the use of insulin. In terms of diet, eating healthier carbohydrates and more fiber can lead to a drop in blood sugar, while exercise can increase the insulin sensitivity of your body, per the CDC.

You'll also want to ensure that you are monitoring your blood sugar levels every day or as instructed by your healthcare provider. This will help you determine if your blood sugar levels are where they are supposed to be.

The NIDDK suggested that along with taking your diagnosis seriously, educating yourself about diabetes and keeping records about your diabetes care can help with diabetes management. Additionally, a March 2021 Journal of Clinical Diabetes & Obesity article indicated that therapy-based interventions such as cognitive behavior therapy, mindfulness, and problem-solving techniques can all play a role in increasing your well-being.

With diabetes, much of the management is in your control, but having that much control over a disease isn't always easy. Still, you can find ways to remain motivated—and healthy—over the long haul.

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