Overview of Clinical Complications of Diabetes
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Older Adults

Overview of Diabetes Complications

What complications are linked to diabetes?

Complications linked to diabetes may include:

  • Heart disease. This is often caused by an extra buildup of plaque on the inner wall of a blood vessel (atherosclerosis). The plaque buildup limits blood flow. Heart attack and stroke are 2 to 4 times more common in people with diabetes. Besides high blood sugar (glucose), the other things that raise the risk for heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetic kidney disease, and high cholesterol.

  • High blood pressure. This affects as many as 2 out of 3 people with diabetes. It greatly raises the risk for diabetes-related complications. This includes heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and blindness. 

  • Dental disease. Gum (periodontal) disease happens more often in people with diabetes.

  • Eye disease or blindness (retinopathy or glaucoma). Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults between ages 20 and 74. Besides high blood sugar, the other things that raise the risk for blindness from diabetes include smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetic kidney disease. People with diabetes have a higher risk of having glaucoma and cataracts. They are also more likely to get them at a younger age. 

  • Kidney and urinary tract disease (renal disease). Diabetes is a main risk factor for end-stage renal disease (ESRD). People with this condition need dialysis or a kidney transplant in order to live. Besides high blood sugar, the other things that raise the risk for kidney failure from diabetes include smoking, high blood pressure, and some medicines such as pain relievers. 

  • Nerve disease (neuropathy). About half of all people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage. This can cause disabling pain that needs to be treated with medicines. Severe forms of diabetic nerve disease are the major reason for lower-leg amputations.

  • Amputation. Many lower-limb amputations in the U.S. that are not from an injury happen among people with diabetes. Besides high blood sugar, the other things that raise the risk for amputation include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetic kidney disease, high cholesterol, and foot injuries. 

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). DKA is one of the most serious outcomes of diabetes that is not well controlled. It mainly happens in people with type 1 diabetes. DKA is marked by high blood sugar levels. It is also marked by ketones in the urine and blood.

  • Erectile dysfunction (ED). This is when a man can't have or keep an erection. It occurs when the blood vessels and the nerves in the penis are damaged. Vascular disease is one of the main causes of ED in men with diabetes. ED can also occur as a side effect of certain medicines. It can also happen because of other conditions that affect the prostate gland or bladder. It can also be from certain lifestyle choices such as smoking and being overweight. Or from emotional factors such as stress and anxiety.

What can prevent diabetes complications?

People with diabetes must stay alert for symptoms that can lead to complications. The best way to do this is to:

  • Get regular checkups. Finding problems early is the best way to keep complications from becoming serious.

  • Keep appointments with your healthcare provider. Do this even when you are feeling well

  • Be aware of symptoms and warning signs. These include vision problems (blurriness, spots), extreme tiredness (fatigue), pale skin color, obesity (more than 20 pounds overweight), numbness or tingling feelings in hands or feet, repeated infections or slow healing of wounds, chest pain, vaginal itching, or constant headaches.

  • Check your blood sugar levels several times a day, as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Control your weight.

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

  • Get regular exercise.

  • Check your feet every day for even minor cuts or blisters.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Take medicines as prescribed for good blood pressure and cholesterol control. Don't take pain medicines that can harm your kidneys. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2019
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