Complications of Diabetes

It is important to treat diabetes correctly. If left untreated, or if not treated correctly, it can cause serious health problems, including  issues with your eyes, heart, kidneys, and nervous system.

Eye Disease

Too much blood sugar and high blood pressure can damage your retina, which is made up of tiny blood vessels at the back of your eyes. Retina damage caused by diabetes is called diabetic retinopathy. You can have retina damage without knowing it, so you should have an eye exam in which your doctor dilates your eyes once a year.

Some warning signs of diabetic retinopathy include poor night vision; blurry or double vision; and blank, dark, or floating spots.

Uncontrolled diabetes can also increase the chances that the lens of your eyes will become clouded, a condition known as a cataract. Cataracts often cause cloudy or fuzzy vision. Uncontrolled diabetes also makes it more likely that you will develop glaucoma, which increases the  the pressure inside your eyes. An early warning sign of glaucoma is having trouble seeing out of the corners of your eyes.

Heart Disease

People with diabetes are at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Heart disease includes coronary artery disease (hardening and thickening of the blood vessels in the heart), heart failure, peripheral artery disease (narrowing of the blood vessels in the legs). Strokes occur when blood vessels in the brain are blocked or break open.

To reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, it is important to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, get plenty of physical activity, and eat a balanced diet that is low in fat. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. You may not notice some of the early signs of heart disease, so it is important to visit your doctor for regular checkups.

Kidney Disease

Your kidneys are made up of a network of tiny blood vessels that filter your blood and produce urine. High blood sugar and high blood pressure can damage these delicate blood vessels. Kidney damage can occur without any warning signs, which is why you should have your blood and urine tested at least once a year for signs of kidney problems. You can reduce the risk of kidney damage by keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range and your blood pressure low.

Nerve Damage

High blood sugar can cause nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy), which can be painful. There are three main types of nerves. Damage to each of these causes different complications. Talk to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

  • Peripheral nerves go to the arms, hands, feet, and legs. Symptoms of peripheral nerve damage include tingling, numbness, and decreased sensitivity to pain, heat, or cold. If your peripheral nerves are damaged, you might not notice small cuts or blisters, especially on your feet. If left untreated, small cuts or blisters can become infected. Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about proper foot care and the importance of wearing shoes that fit correctly.
  • Autonomic nerves control the digestive system, bladder, sexual organs, and blood pressure. Damage to the autonomic nerves can cause digestive symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, urinary problems, and sexual dysfunction, and can make it more difficult to control your blood pressure, causing dizziness.
  • Cranial nerves go to the eyes and face. Damage to the cranial nerves can cause brief periods of double vision or may cause the muscles in your face to sag suddenly for short periods of time.