Untreated Diabetes: What Can Happen and Where You Can Get Help

Thanks to the miracle that is modern science and medicine, a discovery that you have a certain disease is not necessarily as scary or life-changing as it once was.

People who have diabetes seem to live somewhat normal, healthy lives – with the inconvenience of having to manage their blood sugar levels. One unfortunate side effect of this is that some diabetics, especially younger people who feel the invincibility of youth, may feel that “it’s no big deal” and leave their diabetes untreated.

A 2012 study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that 2.4 percent of respondents with diabetes did not use insulin, take oral medication, or follow a healthy diet. Essentially, these people are letting diabetes “take its course.” So what can they expect in the future with untreated diabetes?

What Can Happen

Left untreated, diabetes can affect your long-term health in catastrophic ways. The most serious long-term effects are heart disease and possible kidney-failure. However, there can also be damage to your blood vessels and your eyes. Diabetic ketoacidosis, during which the body breaks down fat stores because it can no longer process sugar, is another serious health complication that can occur. And while mortality is inevitable for all of us, people who do not treat their diabetes will most likely die as a result of one complication or another.

Untreated diabetes can result in both temporary and permanent blindness. There can also be nerve damage in the extremities – typically the hands and feet – which can lead to infection, gangrene and amputation. Along with heart disease and kidney failure, untreated diabetes can also lead to stroke and paralysis.

Where You Can Get Help

Interestingly, the AHRQ study found that very few respondents thought that diabetes was “no big deal,” but instead did not treat diabetes for economic reasons. They either lacked insurance or enough income to adhere to a diabetic diet, opting instead for cheap, sugary processed foods.

If you are not treating diabetes for economic reasons, there are a number of options at your disposal. If your doctor (or any doctor) can’t provide deferred or reduced payments for diabetes treatment, check with local hospitals that might provide “compassionate care.”

There are also free and low-cost health clinics popping up in communities across the country. The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics is one resource to find them. Your local Department of Welfare office should have that information as well.

Photo credit: NAFC via Flickr Creative Commons

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