Long-Term Complications of Diabetes
Why does blood sugar control matter?
Chronic high blood sugar can harm both large and small blood vessels. This causes damage to body organs and nerves. These organs and nerves can be affected without you knowing.
What organs, blood vessels, and nerves are affected?
Tiny blood vessels in the eyes can break. The body tries to heal itself by making new blood vessels. The new blood vessels are weak. These weak blood vessels can leak and the fluid often covers the center of your vision. This is called diabetic retinopathy and can lead to blindness.
Both the large blood vessels that supply blood to the brain and the small blood vessels in the brain can be damaged. This increases your risk of a stroke.
The large blood vessels in the heart are affected. This can lead to a heart attack. Smoking and high blood pressure cause extra wear and tear on blood vessels. This increases the risk for heart disease.
Loss of blood supply to the legs and feet can lead to problems with healing and infection. Sometimes the non-healing sores or ulcers can lead to amputation. Smoking can cause damage to blood vessels too.
High blood sugar over many years can damage to the small blood vessels in the kidneys. The kidneys start to leak very small proteins called microalbumin. Kidney disease from diabetes is called nephropathy and can lead to kidney failure. Treatment for kidney failure is dialysis or kidney transplant.
Neuropathy is damage to the nerves from high blood sugar. You may have pain, numbness and tingling, loss of feeling, and muscle weakness in your hands, legs, and feet. Nerves in the heart, bladder, digestive system, and sexual organs can be affected as well.
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure (should be less than 130/80)
- Being overweight
- Lack of regular exercise
- Drinking more than 1-2 alcohol drinks per day
Lower Your Risk Factors
- Check your blood sugars regularly.
- Quit smoking (Quit Smoking Helpline: 1-800-QUIT-NOW ).
- Eat balanced meals with 3 food groups at each meal.
- Reduce alcohol intake: 1-2 drinks a day.
- Foot Exams: every visit
- Dilated Eye Exams: every year by ophthalmologist or optometrist
- Dental Exams: every 6 months.
- Work with your health care team to
- Keep blood sugars within a goal range
- Screen for diabetes complications
- Check for other risk factors
- Get regular exercise
See Health Facts for You #4814 on “Staying Healthy with Diabetes” for more information.
The Spanish version of this Health Facts for You is #6216.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 08/10/2010
Copyright © 08/10/2010 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5978
Print Health Fact For You