Understanding the Effects of Diabetes On Your Overall Health

Diabetes, St. Luke Integrative Medical Center

More than 100 million people in the United States live with prediabetes or diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 84.1 million have prediabetes, which commonly leads to Type 2 diabetes within five years, and 30.3 million have diabetes. As of 2015, diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.


One in four adults with diabetes don’t know they have it. When caught early, you can effectively manage the disease before serious complications take place, such as stroke, heart disease, nerve damage, and kidney damage. Diet, physical activity, and medicine can stabilize blood sugar levels to help to manage this serious disease, if caught early enough. At St. Luke Integrative Medical Center, we have compiled this guide to help you understand the effects of diabetes on your overall health.

Blood sugar complications

After eating or drinking, your body normally breaks down sugars and uses them to energize your cells and, thus, your body. To make that happen, your pancreas produces insulin, a type of hormone that pulls the sugar from the blood and stores it in cells to use for energy.

When you have diabetes, your pancreas either produces no insulin at all or too little insulin. In response, your blood glucose (sugar) levels rise, and your cells are deprived of energy. That lack of energy leads to issues that affect your entire body, damaging your nerves and organs.

Bodily systems

Does your breath smell sweet and/or do you experience extreme thirst often? Extreme thirst is one of the first symptoms of diabetes. You may also observe visual disturbances, such as “floaters,” while the rest of your body also experiences complications that worsen over the years without intervention.

Digestive, endocrine, and excretory systems

That sweet smell is caused by increased ketonic bodies in your blood, and extra ketones in your urine and high blood sugar can mean you have diabetic ketoacidosis, which can lead to a loss of conscious and possible death.


When your body can’t create insulin or enough insulin, it turns to alternative sources to produce energy, leading to increased levels of toxins in your body. High levels of ketone bodies, acids, and toxic chemicals in your body first signal that something is wrong by producing symptoms of excessive urination, fatigue, and extreme thirst.


You can have high blood sugar levels and no ketones, which occurs in Type 2 diabetes. You may also experience increasing difficulty in emptying your stomach.


Diabetes can damage your kidneys, decreasing their effectiveness in filtering out waste from your blood. At St. Luke, Dr. Charmaine Ortega can conduct a test for microalbuminuria, or extra protein, in your urine to see if your kidneys are faltering in doing their job.


In later stages of diabetes, you may also develop a related kidney disease called diabetic nephropathy, which can lead to kidney damage or failure.

Circulatory system

Diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure, which strains your heart. High blood glucose levels contribute to the buildup of fatty deposits in your blood vessel walls — like a backed-up pipe. Eventually, blood flow gets too restricted, and your blood vessels harden.


That lack of blood flow affects your extremities and can cause pain even when you’re just taking a routine evening stroll with your dog around the block. Narrowed vessels mean a reduced sensation in your extremities.


That’s dangerous because you may fail to notice an injury, and it affects your immune system’s ability to respond and begin the healing process. So you become susceptible to ulcers and infections of the extremities.

Integumentary system

Say that five times fast. The integumentary system refers to the largest organ of the body, the skin. Dehydration and the decrease of moisture (thanks to high blood sugar) may cause the skin to dry and crack.  


Areas of the body that trap moisture become susceptible to yeast, fungal, and bacterial infections, as well as infected nails, boils, and folliculitis (hair follicle infection). These infections develop in the armpits, groin, corners of your mouth, and even between your toes and fingers. You may experience itchiness, blistering, and redness. Your skin may thicken or develop discoloration.

Nervous system

Damage to the nerves is known as diabetic neuropathy, affecting your perception of pain, heat, and cold, so you fail to notice worsening conditions and injury.


Diabetic retinopathy occurs when diabetes leads to leaky, swollen blood vessels in the eyes, which can contribute to blindness. Watch for floaters and cataracts.


St. Luke Integrative Medical Center specializes in various forms of neuropathy, such as the neuropathy caused by diabetes. We understand how the disease affects the whole body and life of the person living with diabetes, and we’re here to help you through it every step of the way. For a consultation with Dr. Ortega, call us or request an appointment through our online scheduling system.

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