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Complications of Untreated Type 2 Diabetes

author image Sydney Hornby, M.D.
Sydney Hornby specializes in metabolic disease and reproductive endocrinology. He is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College and Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, where he earned his M.D., and has worked for several years in academic medical research. Writing for publication since 1995, Hornby has had articles featured in "Medical Care," "Preventive Medicine" and "Medical Decision Making."
Complications of Untreated Type 2 Diabetes
A nurse testing a woman's blood glucose level. Photo Credit Victor_69/iStock/Getty Images

Untreated type 2 diabetes can lead to severe complications resulting in reduced quality of life or even death.Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease that is normally developed during adulthood, as opposed to type 1, or juvenile, diabetes. Type 2 diabetes affects the body’s absorption and processing of glucose, or sugar. Insulin is a hormone the body produces to regulate glucose metabolism. An individual with type 2 diabetes is either resistant to the effects of insulin or does not produce the amount of insulin needed to regulate glucose levels in the body.

Heart Disease

Type 2 diabetes is often asymptomatic for years before it is diagnosed, usually due to a complication. According to the American Diabetes Association, about 5.7 million people each year live with undiagnosed diabetes. (See References 1) One of the most frequent complications is heart disease. Uncontrolled glucose damages blood vessels and nerves in the body. About 75 percent of people with diabetes die of heart disease. (See References 2)

Kidney Failure

Most cases of kidney failure in the United States are cause by diabetes. (See References 1) Normally, the kidneys filter waste from the body. Over time, high blood sugar can clog the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys or cause problems in the urinary tract that can also damage the kidneys. Each year about 43 percent of diabetic nephropathy cases, or kidney failures, are due to diabetes. (See References 2)


Diabetes causes wounds to heal very slowly or sometimes not at all. Nerve damage can cause vascular damage leading to poor circulation to the extremities, especially the feet. In cases of uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, a patient can develop an infection in an unhealed wound. The infection can spread, causing ulceration and sometimes necessitating the amputation of a toe, the entire foot or the entire leg.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

In diabetic ketoacidosis, the body uses fat instead of sugar as an energy source. Ketones then build up in the body and the blood stream. In high doses, ketones can be poisonous. While serious, diabetic ketoacidosis is a rare condition. It is usually diagnosed when a patient presents with another illness such as pneumonia or an infection.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a progressive eye disease that can lead to blindness. It is caused by damaged blood vessels in the retina of the eye. Vision damage may be imperceptible at first, over time eyesight will deteriorate. In patients with diagnosed and managed diabetes, the chances of blindness are reduced by 95 percent. (See References 3)

Erectile Dysfunction

Men with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes can experience erectile dysfunction. This is normally caused by a blocked blood vessel or nerve damage due to high blood sugar.

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