7 Weird Ways High Blood Sugar Affects Your Body

From numb feet to blisters, these symptoms can occur when blood sugar is out of control. 

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By Deborah Wilburn

Everyone needs a certain amount of sugar in their blood. Carbohydrates from many of the foods we eat and drink are broken down into glucose—a type of sugar that travels into the bloodstream to feed our body’s cells and give us energy. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, is often described as the key that unlocks cells so glucose can get in and be used for energy.

Then insulin resistance is like the door becoming harder to open. The body responds by producing more insulin, which works—for a while. But eventually, if the insulin resistance continues to worsen or the pancreas can’t keep up, the result is the high blood sugar levels characteristic of diabetes.

Typical treatments to bring blood sugar to healthy levels include lifestyle changes such healthy eating and exercise, since obesity is thought to be one of the main causes of insulin resistance. Medication or insulin may also be needed. But unless these steps are taken, over time poor or uncontrolled blood sugar can cause damage to nerves and blood vessels, creating a host of health problems.

Loss of sensation

2 / 8 Loss of sensation

Nerve damage is not uncommon, especially in the feet and legs. Symptoms include unsteadiness when you stand or walk as well as numbness, limiting your ability to feel hot, cold and pain. Along with the oddness of not feeling anything when you walk, you could suffer an injury to a foot—such as developing a blister or cutting your foot—and be unaware that you’ve been injured. Such injuries could lead to infection. While loss of sensation is one side of the coin, the other is that feet may feel tingly, or you may experience shooting pain. 

Boils and styes

3 / 8 Boils and styes

People with type 2 diabetes are more susceptible to bacterial infections, including boils, styes and infections of the hair follicles and skin around the nails. Often skin problems are an early indicator of type 2 diabetes. If caught early enough, they can be easily treated and even prevented.


4 / 8 Itchiness

If your skin feels itchy, you may wonder if it’s your clothing or an allergy, but diabetes, which can cause extremely dry skin, may be the culprit. To avoid and control the itchiness, use gentle soap and shampoo, don’t bathe with hot water and apply skin cream to soothe your skin. It’s also important to avoid scratching the itch: Scratching can cause skin lacerations, opening them to infection. 

Poor circulation

5 / 8 Poor circulation

Type 2 diabetes can lead to a narrowing and hardening of blood vessels in the feet and legs, causing poor blood flow. If your feet are cold, wear socks. Don’t use hot water or a heating pad to warm your feet if they’re numb. You won’t feel the heat and can easily burn them. Poor circulation can also cause your skin to itch in the lower parts of your legs. 

Sex Problems

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Damaged nerves can affect the sex organs in both men and women. Men may experience erectile dysfunction when the flow of blood to the penis is disrupted and/or the nerves are damaged. Men with diabetes also tend to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity, adding to the problem. For women, nerve damage may lead to vaginal dryness, making intercourse painful. Women may also lose sensation in the vaginal area, interfering with their ability to achieve orgasm. 

Fungal infections

7 / 8 Fungal infections

People with type 2 diabetes are especially susceptible to fungal infections caused by Candida albicans, a common type of yeast infection. Symptoms are typically red rashes that occur in moist skin folds; blisters and scales surround the itchy rash. The armpits, groin, between fingers and toes and corners of the mouth are common breeding grounds for this infection. 


8 / 8 Gastroparesis

The vagus nerve is responsible for moving food through the digestive tract. When the nerve is damaged or not working, the digestive process slows or stops—a disorder called gastroparesis. When food is essentially delayed in the stomach, blood sugar levels become erratic, making it more difficult to manage. Among other digestive problems, food can harden, making it difficult to pass into the small intestine.

more from this guide

How Type 2 Diabetes Affects Your Organs
The Common Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
5 Diabetes-Friendly Breakfast Ideas
Get a Good Night’s Sleep for Better Blood Sugar