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Getting the Right Diabetes Treatment

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12 Complications of Diabetes

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Cindy Kuzma on September 10, 2021
  • uncomfortable-senior-woman-in-bed
    12 Complications of Diabetes
    From your eyes down to your toes and from your skin inward to your organs, diabetes can cause health problems all over your body. Keeping your blood sugar under control can prevent many of these complications. Some treatments may also reduce their effects, especially if you catch the problems early. 
  • man-sweating-uncomfortably
    1. Autonomic Neuropathy
    High blood sugar can damage the nerves that control your body’s internal processes. As a result, your digestive, urinary, and cardiovascular systems may not work properly. You may sweat more than before or stop sweating altogether. And your sexual organs may be affected, making intimacy difficult.
  • woman holding wrist
    2. Peripheral Neuropathy
    Diabetes-related damage often strikes the nerves that relay signals between your brain and your body. As a result, your hands and feet may feel tingly or numb. Or you may have severe pain at the slightest touch, or feel unexplained sensations of touch, heat, or cold.
  • woman-chest-pain
    3. Heart Disease and Stroke
    People with diabetes are twice as likely as those without diabetes to have heart disease or a stroke. They are also prone to high blood pressure. Cardiovascular events may occur at younger ages and are more likely to be severe or fatal in diabetics.
  • Doctor examining patients eyes
    4. Diabetic Retinopathy
    Diabetes can damage your retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of your eye. Your blood vessels may swell and leak fluid, severely impairing your vision. Without treatment, abnormal new retinal blood vessels form, causing more severe and sometimes permanent harm to your sight. Regular eye exams can detect retinopathy early, when it’s most treatable.
  • Athletes foot, dried rough skin
    5. Foot Ulcers
    Cuts, blisters, calluses, and sores from ill-fitting shoes may seem like minor annoyances. But if you have diabetes, nerve damage and poor blood flow slow healing in your feet. As a result, chronic sores called ulcers can develop. In severe cases, your foot or leg may require amputation.
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  • Examining ear with otoscope
    6. Hearing Loss
    Sound travels to your brain through tiny nerves in your ears. Uncontrolled blood sugar damages the small vessels that support these structures. As a result, hearing loss occurs twice as often in people with diabetes and 30 percent more often in people with pre-diabetes compared to people with normal blood sugar.
  • Dentist explaining x-rays to patient
    7. Gum Disease
    Severe gum disease, called periodontitis, causes your gums to pull away from your teeth. The resulting pockets may fill with germs and pus, further harming your health and potentially requiring surgery. High blood sugar slows healing and feeds the bacteria that cause gum infections.
  • Thyroid function examination
    8. Other Oral Problems
    Diabetes dries out your mouth, triggering soreness, infections, ulcers, and cavities. You’re also at greater risk for thrush. This yeast infection causes white patches in your mouth and may spread to your esophagus, making swallowing difficult or painful. You’ll need treatment with antifungal medications.
  • Young Ophthomologist
    9. Glaucoma
    This serious, vision-stealing eye disease occurs when pressure builds up in the eye. Over time, the pressure irreversibly damages your retina and optic nerve. People with diabetes are 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma than people without. Your risk also increases with age.
  • man with abdominal pain clutching stomach with hands
    10. Gastroparesis
    Nerve damage can strike your stomach and intestines, slowing down or stopping your digestive process. Symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, vomiting, and bloating often follow. What’s more, this delay in digestion can cause your blood sugar to rise and fall sharply. Taking medications or eating smaller, more frequent meals can help.
  • kidney-disease-patient-doctor
    11. Kidney Disease
    Each kidney contains about 1 million tiny filters called glomeruli. Over a period of years, high blood sugar destroys these structures, decreasing your kidneys’ ability to remove toxins from your blood. Diabetes accounts for nearly half of all new cases of kidney failure. High blood pressure further increases your risk.
  • Allergic Reaction Itchy Skin
    12. Skin Complications
    Diabetes can leave your skin dry, itchy, cracked, or infected. And several skin diseases occur almost exclusively in people with diabetes. One, diabetic dermopathy, causes light brown scaly patches to form, usually on your legs. Another, acanthosis nigricans, leaves dark brown velvety spots on your neck, armpits, or groin.
12 Complications of Diabetes
  1. Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your diabetes under control. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC).
  2. Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your eyes healthy. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC).
  3. Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC).
  4. Kidney Disease of Diabetes. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
  5. Diabetes and You: Healthy Eyes Matter. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  6. Avoiding Diabetes Complications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  7. Eye Complications. American Diabetes Association.
  8. Foot Complications. American Diabetes Association.
  9. Gastroparesis. American Diabetes Association.
  10. Autonomic Neuropathy. American Diabetes Association.
  11. Peripheral Neuropathy. American Diabetes Association.
  12. Skin Complications. American Diabetes Association.
  13. Take Care of Your Feet for a Lifetime. National Diabetes Education Program. National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  14. Diabetes, Gum Disease, and Other Dental Problems. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease.
  15. Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
  16. Yeast Infections. U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.

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Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 10
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