Preventing Complications of Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes can cause serious complications, including heart disease, kidney damage and vision loss. Learn how to prevent these problems.

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image of a person using diabetes tester Preventing Complications of Type 1 Diabetes

Having type 1 diabetes means your body doesn't produce insulin. Insulin helps sugar (glucose) move from the blood into the cells, where it is used for energy. Without insulin, sugar builds up in your blood. High blood sugar levels can damage nerves and blood vessels throughout your body. This can cause a range of serious health problems called complications.

Blood glucose monitoring is very important to your health if you have diabetes. Checking and logging your blood sugar readings shows how well you are keeping your blood sugar in the target range. It can also help your doctor know whether your treatment is working and make adjustments as needed. Good blood sugar control may help prevent or slow the complications of diabetes.

What are the complications of diabetes?
Possible complications of type 1 diabetes include:

  • Heart disease. People with diabetes are at high risk for heart attack, stroke and other diseases of the heart and blood vessels. In fact, two out of three people with diabetes die from heart attack or stroke.
  • Kidney disease (nephropathy). High blood sugar makes the kidneys work harder. Over time, this damages the kidneys and can lead to kidney failure.
  • Eye disease. Diabetes can damage blood vessels in the eye. This can lead to retinopathy, which can cause vision loss and eventually blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk for cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy). The most common type is peripheral neuropathy, which affects the arms and legs. It can cause a variety of symptoms, including a pins-and-needles sensation, pain or numbness. Loss of feeling in the feet increases the risk that a foot injury may go unnoticed and become infected. Neuropathy can also affect the bladder, bowel and stomach and cause erectile dysfunction.
  • Infections. People who have diabetes are at increased risk for many types of infections. High blood sugar levels promote the growth of bacteria and fungi and also hamper the immune system's ability to fight off infection. Gum, bladder and skin infections are common. Foot infections sometimes become severe and require amputation.

How can I prevent complications?
The key to preventing complications is keeping your blood sugar as close to normal as possible. Your doctor will help you develop a treatment plan to achieve this by:

  • Testing your blood sugar. It's important do this as often as your doctor tells you to, which may be four or more times a day.
  • Taking insulin as prescribed, either as shots or using an insulin pump.
  • Eating a healthy diet that's high in fiber and rich in whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables.
  • Getting regular exercise as advised by your doctor.

Monitoring your blood glucose and following your treatment plan can help you avoid the complications of type 1 diabetes. You can also lower your risk of complications by:

  • Not smoking. Smoking raises blood pressure and nerve damage as well as your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol. You may need to take medicine to keep them in the normal ranges.
  • Checking your feet daily for any sores or injuries that could lead to infection.
  • Having regular eye exams.
  • Getting checkups every three to six months. This will help your doctor keep track of your health and spot any complications early. Quick treatment may slow or stop their progression.
  • Ask your doctor about aspirin therapy. Taking a low-dose aspirin each day can help some people with diabetes lower their risks of heart attack and stroke. But this therapy is not safe for everyone. Ask your doctor if it's for you.
By Lila Havens, Staff Writer
Created on 06/28/2002
Updated on 06/16/2010
  • American Diabetes Association. Type 1 diabetes complications.
  • American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes -2009. Diabetes Care. 2009;32(Suppl 1):S13-S61.
  • Pignone M, Alberts MJ, Colwell JA, et al. Aspirin for primary prevention of cardiovascular events in people with diabetes. Circulation. 2010;121:1-8.
  • American Heart Association. Healthy lifestyle for people with diabetes.
  • American Diabetes Association. Diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
  • National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Complications of diabetes.
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