Complications of Diabetes
People with diabetes must monitor and regulate their blood
sugar constantly. Yet, no matter how careful you may be, there is still a possibility
that a problem might arise. Some complications like hyperglycemia,
hypoglycemia, and ketoacidosis require emergency care. If left untreated, these
conditions can cause seizures, loss of consciousness, and death.
High Blood Sugar (Hyperglycemia)
This serious complication can lead to nerve and organ damage
if it occurs frequently or over long periods of time. Your blood sugar can rise
to dangerous levels for many reasons. This can happen with fasting or
overeating. Stress, illness, or not taking enough glucose-lowering medication
can also cause hyperglycemia. Spikes in blood sugar don’t always mean diabetes,
but the condition does need immediate emergency care.
Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)
With diabetes, blood sugar can suddenly drop for a number of
reasons. Skipping a meal and working out too hard are common causes. You are
more likely to experience bouts of low blood sugar if you take glucose-lowering
medications or are in insulin therapy.
This is a complication of diabetes that occurs when the body
cannot use sugar (glucose) as a fuel source because the body has no insulin or
not enough insulin. If your cells are starved for energy, your body may begin
to break down fat. Byproducts of fat breakdown, potentially toxic acids called ketone bodies, build up in the body. This
can lead to dehydration, abdominal pain, and breathing problems.
Diabetes can damage blood vessels in the eyes and cause
blurry vision or even blindness. Possible eye conditions may include the
These are more likely to develop in people with diabetes.
Cataracts cause the eye’s clear lens to cloud, blocking light from getting in.
Mild cataracts can be treated with sunglasses and glare-control lenses. Severe
cataracts may be treated with a lens implant.
This is when pressure builds up in the eye and restricts
blood flow to the retina and optic nerve. Glaucoma causes gradual loss of
eyesight. There are drugs that can help slow down the process.
This is a general term that describes any problems of the
retina caused by diabetes. In the non-proliferative form, capillaries in
the back of the eye enlarge and form pouches. This can lead to swelling and
bleeding. It can also advance to the proliferative form. This is where
blood vessels of the retina are so damaged that they close off and force new
blood vessels to form. These new vessels are weak and bleed.
This occurs when capillary walls lose their ability to
control the passage of substances between the blood and retina. Fluid can leak
into the macula of the eye and cause it to swell with fluid. This condition
causes blurred vision and potential loss of vision. Fortunately, treatment is often
effective and can control vision loss.
Foot and Skin Problems
People with diabetes are more likely to have foot problems
because of nerve and blood vessel damage and restricted blood flow to the
extremities. If you have diabetes, it’s crucial that you take foot problems seriously.
With poor care, small sores or breaks in the skin may turn into deep skin
ulcers. If skin ulcers get larger or grow deeper, gangrene and amputation of
the foot may be the result.
According to the National Diabetes Education Program, at least
65 percent of people with diabetes die from some form of heart disease or
stroke. Your risk of artery disease and narrowing of the arteries
(atherosclerosis) is also greater. Other problems with the heart and blood
vessels that are associated with diabetes include:
- peripheral artery disease (damage to blood
vessels that supply the legs and feet)
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- high cholesterol
Excess sugar in the bloodstream can injure the blood vessels
and damage the nerves in extremities such as the feet. This can lead to
tingling, numbness, pain, and burning sensations. If numbness becomes severe,
you may eventually not even be able to notice an injury until a large sore or
Some other possible complications of diabetes include:
- skin infections
- urinary tract infections
- kidney disease and kidney failure
- erectile dysfunction
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in 2010.
Long-Term Complications and Outlook
Most diabetes complications are connected to problems with
blood vessels. Long periods of high glucose levels can cause blood vessels to narrow,
weaken, and reduce the flow of blood to many parts of the body. The most often
affected are the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Reduced blood flow can cause problems
that can be disabling or even life threatening. See your doctor immediately if
you are experiencing any such complications.
Long-term complications of diabetes develop gradually. The
longer a person has had diabetes, the higher their risk for complications.
Proper preventive care can help you control or avoid many or all of
these diabetes complications. The better a person is at managing their
blood sugar levels, the lower the risk of developing them and the better the