High blood sugar from diabetes can damage kidneys

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



High blood sugar from diabetes can damage kidneys



Dear Pam,

My mother’s blood sugar has been running over 200. Now she’s been told she has kidney disease and may need dialysis. How does high blood sugar damage kidneys?

Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney problems (also called “renal insufficiency” or “kidney disease”) in the United States. High blood sugar levels from poorly controlled diabetes damage the blood vessels and nephrons (filtering units) of the kidneys.

When your kidneys are functioning properly, the glomeruli (blood-filtering units of the kidneys) keep protein inside the body. Your body needs this protein to stay healthy.

High blood sugar can damage the kidney’s glomeruli. When the kidneys are damaged, important proteins in the blood are lost in the urine. Damaged kidneys don’t do a good job of cleaning out waste and extra fluids so not enough waste and fluids go out of the body as urine.

Instead, they build up in your blood which can cause even further damage to your kidneys.

In addition to filtering the waste in your body, the kidneys also play a role in:

  • Releasing the enzyme renin which controls blood pressure.

  • Changing vitamin D into its active form, (which helps with the absorption of calcium from the intestine, for strong bones and teeth).

  • Producing the protein erythropoietin which stimulates the production of red blood cells.

Lack of red blood cells can mean you are anemic, and can cause anemia-related fatigue.

If you have developed kidney problems as a result of diabetes, you may be feeling fatigued or really tired. You may find it hard to do some of your normal daily tasks or activities.

If this is the case, it’s time to talk to your healthcare provider.

A constant feeling of tiredness can be a sign that you have developed a condition known as anemia. Anemia is a condition in which your body does not have enough red blood cells. If your kidneys are damaged, they may not be producing the erythropoietin your body needs to stimulate the production of red blood cells.

This means your body is not receiving the oxygen it needs to run efficiently. Without enough oxygen, you may experience symptoms if anemia, such as fatigue.

Be sure to see your healthcare provider if blood sugars are running high (over 120).

Diabetes is known as the “silent killer” because often you don’t experience symptoms of disease until it’s too late. There are many other complications associated with uncontrolled blood sugars including diseases of the eyes, heart, stomach, kidneys, nerves, circulation, etc.

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