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Less common side-effects of diabetes

While diabetes has some common symptoms – particularly before you are diagnosed – there are also some less common side-effects of diabetes, when you live with the condition every day.

less common side effects of diabetes

Have you noticed any side-effects of living with diabetes? We asked our community of South Africans with Diabetes, and they had a few to share…

Common and less common side-effects of diabetes

Most of the side-effects relate to high blood sugar – thrush, fungal skin infections, impetigo-staph (bacterial), bladder infections, thirst and fatigue. All of these relate to high sugars in the blood and in the cells and organs.

As a reminder, here’s the goal for normal blood sugar.

Other side-effects like headaches, dehydration (constant thirst), stress/anxiety are definitely worse in the context of high sugars and can cause a vicious cycle between the stress and the blood sugar.

Recurrent infections

Spikes in blood sugar (constant high blood sugar) slows down the body’s ability to fight infection, which can lead to recurrent infections. When there’s too much sugar in your blood, white blood cells have difficulty traveling through the bloodstream. This lowers your body’s ability to fight infections.

People who have had diabetes for a long time may have peripheral nerve damage (also called neuropathy) and issues with circulation, leading to reduced blood flow to the hands and feet. “Circulation issues increase the chances for infection,” says Dr. Claudine Lee, a GP with a special interest in diabetes. “The high sugar levels in your blood and tissues allow bacteria to grow and allow infections to develop more quickly.”

When diabetes is not managed, the episodes of infections are more frequent


These infections can include:

  • Yeast infections: Thrush is a yeast infection that can grow in the different parts of the body like the armpits, fingers, mouth and genital area. Thrush is generally found around the genitals in men and women, leading to itching, irritation, soreness and stinging during sex or when urinating.
  • Urinary tract infections: Common symptoms include pain, burning or stinging when peeing. Other symptoms involve frequent urge to pee, and dark, cloudy or strong-smelling urine. One may even experience pain in the lower abdomen.

In the female or male organs there is a symbiosis of bugs: microscopic organisms that are in harmony. When the blood sugar is high, it feeds the bugs like candida and staph aureus that then overgrow to cause thrush and impetigo.

If your blood sugar is controlled, then you are not at greater risk of infection than people without diabetes.


Part of the solution when it comes to control is better food choices as well as smaller meal portions (here’s our Healthy Food Guide with advice on which foods to choose, and in which portions).

side effects of diabetes

Our diabetes community on Facebook shared these top three surprising side-effects of diabetes:


Diabetes can affect any part of the digestive system and for some people, this may mean frequent diarrhea while others may suffer from constipation. Studies point to a number of factors causing this: nerve damage, medication, and other factors may play a role. However it is said that about 20% of people with diabetes experience diarrhea. Here’s how to take Metformin without getting diarrhea.

Thinning hair or hair loss

The reality is we all lose some hair every day. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, people shed between 50 and 100 hairs each day and most of us don’t even notice it. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause poor blood circulation which can affect the ability of hair follicles to operate normally.  This results in the follicle not producing a new strand of hair. When the old strand dies and falls off, there is no replacement for the fallen hairs and this gradually changes the scalp, resulting in thinner and more sparsely located hairs.

Yup the hair loss for me


Struggling with hairline


Guys, I have this terrible alopecia, is it because I’m diabetic? It’s bad bad bad.


Thinning hair suspect hormone reduction too. Hard to tell as old age attacking from other side!!


Stiff shoulders

But what does diabetes have to do with frozen shoulders? Studies show that one of the rheumatic conditions caused by diabetes is frozen shoulder, which is characterized by pain and severe limited active and passive range of motion of the shoulder joint, particularly external rotation. The study further indicates that if one has chronically high blood sugar levels, then sugar molecules may attach to collagen. Collagen is a major protein that makes up the connective tissue that holds your joints together.

 When the sugar attaches to the collagen, it gets sticky, so movement becomes restricted and your shoulder starts to stiffen. When you try to work through the stickiness, it causes pain that progresses from mild to severe. Unfortunately in some cases, the shoulder becomes impossible to move.

Frozen shoulder x 2 Dupuytren’s in both hands


That was the worst for me. I had it in my right shoulder first and then my left.


Me too, I also have frozen shoulders


The effect of increased blood sugar

Dr. Claudine Lee explains what happens in our bodies if we constantly have increased blood sugar. “When you spill Coke on the floor and walk over it, your shoe sticks to it. Every time your blood glucose is above 10mmol things get sticky on the inside – vagina, heart, brain, kidneys.”

How to manage diabetes

To help you manage diabetes and reduce the risk of developing some of these symptoms, remember TEEL to make you feel good:

What to read next?

Take your diabetes medication: All the expert medication tips you need to stop diarrhea and make injecting easier.

Eat healthy for diabetes: The one article you need to read about diabetes and diet.

Exercise, a little every day:The ultimate guide to diabetic exercise, including how to make it fun!

How to lose weight with diabetes: Expert tips to help you succeed.

Photos by danila alvezd and Laurynas Mereckas

What to read next
Join South Africans with Diabetes on Facebook

Join our diabetes community


  1. Alita Alita

    Hi i like to know about diebetes

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.