Metabolic Health

Complications of Diabetes Mellitus: Acute & Chronic

Reviewed by

Shifa Fathima

Blood glucose provides energy for the metabolic systems in the body. But any considerable hike in blood glucose levels can be dangerous. Insulin, an essential hormone, helps to break down glucose and release energy. Diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas produces less or no insulin. The body is thus unable to metabolise blood glucose to produce energy effectively. As a result, glucose accumulates in the blood, leading to a spike in blood sugar levels.

There can be multiple causes of diabetes mellitus (type-2 diabetes), including sedentary lifestyle, obesity, genetic and stress-related issues, and metabolic disorders such as chronic pancreatitis. Acute diabetes symptoms often go unnoticed. However, if diagnosed in the early stages, they can be reversed.  

Types of Diabetes

There are three types of diabetes:

1. Type-1 Diabetes

Type-1 diabetes is caused when the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Therefore, any person who has type 1 diabetes has to take external insulin shots to lower their blood sugar levels. The cause of diabetes is often genetic, but other factors such as weight gain and lifestyle changes can also contribute to it. Poor habits or a sedentary lifestyle can also trigger acute complications of diabetes type-1. It is also called juvenile diabetes, as it often shows up at the age of 4–7 or 10–14 years. The cause may be genetic or even viruses like rotavirus, mumps virus, etc.

2. Type-2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes shows up in most individuals with prediabetes, and it usually starts on or after the age of 35. In this condition, the body stops making enough insulin to utilise blood sugar effectively, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. Acute complications of diabetes type 2  are often triggered by a fainting episode leading to the detection of varying blood sugar levels.

3. Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes refers to diabetes that develops for the first time during pregnancy. Blood sugar is usually regulated by hormones. Pregnancy often causes a hormonal imbalance, making it difficult for the body to metabolise glucose properly. It results in gestational diabetes. High body weight before pregnancy can be another cause. It occurs mainly after the 2nd trimester and may need high-risk care.

Acute Complications of Diabetes Mellitus

The acute complications of diabetes may begin to show up, starting with fainting and dizziness. The acute complications of diabetes type 2 do not differ much from type 1 diabetes.  The following are the acute complications of diabetes: 

1. Diabetic Ketoacidosis

The condition of production of high amounts of ketones in the body is called ketoacidosis. In the absence of insulin, the body cannot use glucose to produce energy. Thus, it starts breaking fat in its place. This process causes the buildup of ketones—substances produced in the body when the cells don’t get enough glucose. Thus, this leads to ketoacidosis. Read more about the diabetic ketoacidosis symptoms.

2. Hypoglycemia

In acute diabetes, medications or insulin is administered to maintain blood sugar levels. Sudden fall in blood sugar levels, i.e. hypoglycemia, often occurs due to an unsupervised dosage of medications or insulin.  

3. Frequent Urination

Acute diabetes symptoms strain the kidneys to break down and absorb the excess glucose in the blood. The kidneys help excrete this glucose in the urine and draw out fluid from your cells. It leads to frequent urination and increased thirst.

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Chronic Complications of Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus affects organs and has the potential to become a chronic condition. Chronic diabetes mellitus means that a person has been suffering from this condition for a long time (more than a year). The acute complications of diabetes type 2 can be managed with a proper dosage of insulin, but unregulated blood sugar levels for a long time can lead to the following complications:

1. Neuropathy

High blood sugar levels destroy the nerve endings, resulting in tingling and burning sensations in the lower limbs. Eventually, there is a loss of sensation, which begins from the tip of the toes to the fingers and sole of the feet. This condition is called diabetic neuropathy. It is one of the chronic complications of diabetes mellitus.

2. Renal Damage

Diabetes causes excessive pressure on the kidneys to filter blood. Chronic complications of type-1 diabetes can often cause renal or kidney failure. Such patients may require to be on dialysis in the later years of their life.

3. Retinal and Macular Damage

Cataract and glaucoma and damage to the cornea are related to diabetes.

4. Delayed Healing

Due to excessive blood sugar levels, recovery is slowed in the body. Healing is poor, and wounds may become worse, leading to gangrene.

5. Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which sleep is disturbed. It is often seen as a complication of diabetes mellitus.

How do I Control or Prevent Diabetes Complications?

Diabetes mellitus can be a serious condition and should be taken seriously once detected. People who have diabetes should be vigilant to immediately detect any acute complications of diabetes type 1 or type 2. You can follow simple steps to keep yourself away from any further complications of diabetes.

1. Relieve Stress-related Issues

Stress is a major contributing factor in any lifestyle disorder. Stress can trigger a spike in blood glucose levels. Follow relaxation exercises, meditation and even opt for therapy classes to stay free from stress.

2. Exercise Regularly

Exercise is the key to good health. With a regular exercise regime, you can keep up your metabolism and break down sugar much more efficiently to release energy.

3. Keep your Feet Clean

Diabetes causes loss of sensation in the extremities. Foot care should be made a routine to remove any debris. People with diabetes cannot feel pin or thorn pricks, which often causes the wound to become a septic wound and later into gangrene. Routine foot checkups can avoid this situation. 

4. Regular Eye Checkups

Cataracts, glaucoma, and damage to the retina are common manifestations of diabetes. To rule out any of them, keep regular eye checkups a part of your fitness screenings. 

5. Stay away from Smoking

Smoking can trigger type-2 diabetes. Smoking causes an increase in triglycerides in the blood vessels and reduces blood flow in the extremities. It raises blood pressure and increases the risk of heart disease and retinal damage. 

6. Stay away from Alcohol

Drinking in moderation can be tolerated, but excess alcohol intake can adversely affect the liver, pancreas and kidney. Beer and wine contain carbohydrates which can spike blood sugar levels. Drinking increases appetite and thus calorie consumption. It adversely affects blood sugar levels. So, avoid drinking alcohol as much as possible.  


Diabetes mellitus is a lifestyle disorder with profound implications. Sometimes the disease can cause life-threatening complications also. It is necessary to identify and control blood sugar levels as soon as possible. Once detected, with proper precautions, you can prevent all these complications and lead a healthy life. Chronic pancreatitis and diabetes are often linked together as the pancreas produces insulin. Inflammation of the pancreas, pancreatitis, can adversely affect blood sugar levels. 


1. What are the short-term complications of diabetes mellitus?

Diabetic ketoacidosis, frequent thirst, frequent urination and hyperglycemia are some of the short term complications of diabetes mellitus.

2. What are the long-term complications of diabetes mellitus?

The failure to treat diabetes mellitus or control blood sugar levels may cause long-term side effects such as damage to the heart and kidneys, diabetic neuropathy, retinal and macular damage, delayed wound healing, and irregular sleep.

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