Complications of Diabetes – What You Need to Know

Complications of diabetes include nerve damage, kidney disease, eye damage, heart disease, stroke, and poor blood flow. Manage diabetes to reduce risk of complications.

Diabetes is a condition where blood sugar isn’t well controlled, leading to serious health issues.1 Over time, high blood sugar can harm blood vessels, nerves, and organs. This can cause eye disease, foot problems, heart issues, stroke, kidney troubles, and nerve damage.1 It’s crucial to prevent and manage these problems for those with diabetes.2

Complications from diabetes are many, such as eye illness, foot issues, gum disease, heart problems, stroke, kidney troubles, and nerve damage.2 It can also affect sexual and bladder health, skin issues, and cause infections.2 To lower these risks, it’s important to keep blood sugar under control. A healthy lifestyle and regular checkups are vital.

Key Takeaways

  • Diabetes can lead to a wide range of serious complications, including eye, foot, heart, kidney, and nerve problems.
  • High blood sugar levels over time can damage blood vessels, nerves, and organs, leading to these complications.
  • Preventing and managing diabetes complications is crucial for maintaining good health and quality of life.
  • Effective diabetes management, including controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, can significantly reduce the risk of complications.
  • Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, healthy eating, and regular exercise, can also help prevent or delay the onset of diabetes complications.


Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how our bodies use blood sugar, or glucose. It’s an essential energy source.3 When the bloodstream has too much glucose, it’s because the body can’t use or make insulin correctly. This issue causes serious health problems over time.3 It’s important to keep blood sugar levels normal to avoid diabetes-related health risks.

High Blood Sugar Risks

High blood sugar that’s not under control can harm the body’s blood vessels, nerves, and organs. This damage can cause several complications.1 Such as eye and foot problems, heart disease, stroke, kidney issues, and nerve damage.1 Managing these issues is key for those with diabetes.

Importance of Managing Diabetes

Tackling diabetes with medicine, the right diet, exercise, and seeing a doctor regularly is vital.3 Proper management reduces the risks linked to high blood sugar.1 It can also delay or prevent the serious complications of diabetes. Ensuring that blood sugar is in control, keeping up good habits, and regular doctor visits can greatly impact the health of someone with diabetes over time.

Chronic Complications

Complications from diabetes grow slowly and can cause big harm if not managed. They include:

Eye Problems (Retinopathy)

People with diabetes might suffer from eye issues (retinopathy) that mess with their vision. Usually, they find out through eye exams.1

Foot Problems

In those with diabetes, foot problems can get really bad. Nerve issues and poor blood flow might even lead to needing an amputation.1

Heart Attack and Stroke

Diabetes increases the chance of a heart attack or stroke. High blood sugar hurts blood vessels, making them sick.1 It also makes it harder to control blood pressure and cholesterol, raising the risks even more.4

Kidney Problems (Nephropathy)

If you have diabetes, your kidneys might get hurt over time. High blood sugar is to blame. It could lead to kidney issues that might need dialysis or a transplant.1 This damage keeps the kidneys from working right.4

Nerve Damage (Neuropathy)

Diabetes can also hurt your nerves. This can cause pain, burning, or even make you lose feeling.1 Also, men might face trouble with erectile function. It’s another reason to keep your blood sugar in check.4

diabetic neuropathy

Gum Disease and Dental Problems

Having diabetes greatly raises the chance of getting diabetic gum disease and more oral issues. When blood sugar is high, it’s perfect for harmful bacteria in the mouth. This can cause problems like gingivitis and periodontitis.5 Diabetes can also weaken the gums, making them easier to infect and slower to heal.5

The link between diabetes dental problems and oral health is strong.5 Nearly 25% of 50+ U.S. adults with diabetes lost most of their teeth, against about 16% without diabetes.5 Too much blood sugar makes gum disease worse.5

Diabetes also makes oral issues like cavities, dry mouth, and others more likely.5 For those with diabetes, smoking adds to these risks.5

It’s crucial for those with diabetes to see the dentist often and take good care of their teeth.6 Going to the dentist every six months is key to avoid big oral health problems. Starting treatment early for gum disease is also much less expensive.6 Preventing big dental problems can save a lot of money later.6

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Dentists can help catch early signs of diabetes during checkups. This shows how closely dental and diabetes risks are linked.6 Good management of diabetes and regular dental care are vital for preventing gum disease and other issues.6

Diabetes StatusSevere Tooth Loss
With Diabetes25%
Without Diabetes16%

Related Conditions and Cancer Risk

Diabetes raises the chance of getting certain cancers. These include types like liver, pancreatic, and breast cancer. The exact reasons are not fully clear. But, high blood sugar and insulin issues may play a big part. Some cancer treatments can also make diabetes harder to manage. They can affect how well you control your blood sugar. The link between diabetes and cancer is now clearer.7More info about diabetes and cancer risk here.7

A big review discovered a strong link between Type 2 Diabetes and cancer risk. Diabetes seemed to predict higher cancer death rates in some studies. Also, if you have abnormal blood sugar, you might be at more risk of dying from cancer. Type 2 Diabetes affects how well someone does after getting cancer.8

Newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetes patients may face a shorter life. Diabetes is linked to dying from any cause, not just from cancer. People with both diabetes and cancer may not get as much treatment. So, they might not do as well as others with cancer.8

Getting diabetes raises your odds of getting pancreatic cancer later on. So, it’s a good idea to check for cancer if you have diabetes. This is a common recommendation when you go for your diabetes check-ups. The choice of treatment for diabetes may also affect how we treat cancer.8

A big report points out how closely diabetes and cancer are connected. Many studies agree on the link. High blood sugar seems to help cancer grow. And, diabetes changes how our bodies react to different treatments.8

Sexual Problems in Women

Diabetes can harm women’s sexual health. It can affect nerves and lower blood flow to sexual organs. This leads to less feeling and arousal.9 Up to 85% of people with diabetes face sexual issues. More men than women with diabetes experience this. In one study, over half of diabetic women had sexual problems.9

Frequent vaginal infections are a risk for diabetic women too. These include yeast and urinary tract infections. They can negatively affect intimacy.9 The average age of these women was around 48 years old. Surprisingly, different health measures didn’t vary much between women with and without sexual issues.9

Speaking openly with doctors is crucial. They can help deal with these issues. For female diabetics, kidney problems and eye issues were linked to sexual issues.9 However, nerve problems didn’t seem to play a big part.9

Certain infections and blood sugar problems increase sexual health risks. Around a third of patients had kidney issues. And a tenth had serious kidney problems. These problems were closely tied to sexual issues.9 But heart issues, high blood pressure, and activity level didn’t seem to matter much.9

Sexual Problems in Men

Diabetes can lead to difficulties with sex, especially erectile dysfunction. Men with diabetes have a higher risk. They might find it hard to get or keep an erection because of nerve damage and less blood flow to the penis. Hormonal changes related to diabetes can also cause sexual problems.10

If we look at all the studies, about 34.1% of diabetic men have erectile dysfunction. In Saudi Arabia, research shows a high rate – 75%. This problem often links to early ejaculation and lower desire.11

Research in Iran found that over 40% of diabetic men have erectile problems. The rate among those in Ethiopia was also high, but exact numbers were not given. Studies from 1989 suggested nerve and muscle issues contribute to these sexual problems.11

A study looked at how blood sugar control affects erectile issues in diabetic men. It found that better control links to improved function. Also, starting type 2 diabetes early can lower the risks of these problems. This shows it’s key to manage diabetes well from the start.11

Men with diabetes should talk to their doctors about any sex worries. Treatments like therapy, counseling, and medicine can help. Medicines like Viagra and Cialis are options too. It’s important for these men to openly talk to their healthcare team about their sexual health. This can lead to the best care and advice.10

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What are the complications of diabetes?

Diabetes can cause both long-term and sudden health problems. The acute issues include acute diabetes complications, diabetic hypoglycemia, diabetic hyperglycemia, and diabetic ketoacidosis.

Acute Complications

Diabetic hypoglycemia happens when blood sugar drops too low. It may result in shakiness, sweating, and confusion. Diabetic hyperglycemia is the opposite, with high blood sugar causing thirst and blurred vision. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is very serious, needing quick treatment to avoid severe effects.1

Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)

Diabetic hypoglycemia can strike when someone takes too much diabetes medication or skips meals. Symptoms include shakiness and confusion. It’s vital to treat this with fast carbs to raise blood sugar.1

Hyperglycemia (High Blood Sugar)

Diabetic hyperglycemia happens due to lack of insulin or its effectiveness. It leads to thirst and blurry vision. Without treatment, it can become life-threatening DKA. Regular monitoring and adjusting medicine is key to avoid hyperglycemia.1

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is when the body can’t use glucose and starts to burn fat. This produces toxic ketones. DKA requires immediate medical care because it can lead to coma or death. Treatment includes insulin and fluids to balance the body.1

Causes of Diabetes Complications

Diabetes complications often stem from high blood sugar levels for a long time.1 This high sugar can harm blood vessels, nerves, and organs in the body.

Role of High Blood Sugar

Consistently high blood sugar leads to many issues. These include problems with eyes and feet, heart attacks, and kidney problems.1 The risks increase the longer diabetes goes uncontrolled.12

Importance of HbA1c Levels

HbA1c shows average blood sugar over three months. Higher levels mean more risk for diabetes problems.1 Even a slightly high HbA1c level can up the risk.1

Other Risk Factors

Issues like high blood pressure, smoking, and unhealthy cholesterol levels also play a role.1 Keeping blood sugar, pressure, and cholesterol in check is key.1

Managing diabetes well is vital to avoid complications. Stay within the HbA1c range, get check-ups, stop smoking, eat healthy, and exercise.1 Those already with diabetes problems have a higher risk for more.1

If prediabetes isn’t stopped, it can develop into diabetes. Look out for high blood sugar signs.12 Kids can get type 2 diabetes too, which is becoming more common.12 Diabetics face more heart problems and strokes.12

Diabetes can cause nerve issues, leading to pain and numbness in the hands and feet.12 It can harm the kidneys too, affecting how they filter.12 Eye blood vessels are also at risk, which could lead to blindness.12 Digestion and men’s health might be affected as well.12

For pregnant women, gestational diabetes can impact their babies. It may lead to the baby having growth or low blood sugar issues.12 It might also cause problems like preeclampsia for the mom.12 These babies have a higher chance of obesity and diabetes later.12 In severe cases, it can even result in the baby’s death.12

Preventing and Delaying Complications

Diabetes complications can be very serious, but they aren’t a given. Those with diabetes can do a lot to stop or slow down these issues.1

Managing Diabetes

It’s crucial to keep blood sugar, blood pressure, and fats under control. Doing this can cut the risk of complications significantly.1 It’s important to keep an eye on HbA1c levels, which show blood sugar average over three months. The lower this number, the lower the risk of complications.1

Quitting Smoking

Smoking can make complications worse.1 So, quitting smoking is key to staying healthier if you have diabetes.

Healthy Eating

Eating healthier, including more fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains, can reduce the risk of diabetes.13 Good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help keep cholesterol in check, supporting a healthy heart.13

Regular Exercise

Adults should aim for 150 minutes of heart-pumping exercise weekly to stay fit. This includes activities like brisk walking or biking.13 Adding in weight-bearing exercises a few times each week boosts strength and balance. This keeps you more active in the long run.13

Attending Health Checkups

It’s vital to keep up with diabetes checkups and appointments.1 Those with diabetes should get regular health tests to make sure they’re doing okay.1

Preventing complications includes good diabetes management, no smoking, better eating, being active, and keeping up with medical visits.1 While it’s true that perfect management doesn’t always mean no complications,14 leading a healthy life can do a lot to avoid or delay serious health issues from diabetes.14

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Managing Existing Complications

If you have diabetes complications, it’s crucial to team up with doctors for the best treatments. You might need special care like:

  • Eye care is vital, with regular checks and treatments such as laser therapy. They can stop you from losing vision1.
  • Don’t forget foot care. This includes regular checks and tough cases may need amputation to solve foot problems1.
  • For heart or stroke issues, you may need both medicines and new lifestyle habits1.
  • Pills and food changes can help keep your kidneys healthy and stop kidney failure15.
  • For nerve pain, there are meds, therapy, and ways to improve how nerves work1.
  • And, of course, never skimp on dental care. Managing gum disease helps keep your mouth healthy16.

Working with a group of experts is often needed. This team might include various specialists. They’ll help you manage diabetes and its effects better. Sticking to your treatment and making lifestyle changes are key. They can improve your health and stop problems from getting worse.11615

Support and Resources

Living with diabetes is tough, but there’s help out there. You can find support in many places, like helpful helplines and interesting online groups. These resources offer support, education, and a community feeling for those facing diabetes challenges.

Helpline and Online Forum

The American Diabetes Association runs a free helpline at 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383). It offers advice and info to anyone with diabetes, family members, and caregivers.16 Also, their online community forum ( lets people with diabetes connect, ask questions, and support each other.16

Research Initiatives

Many efforts are working to tackle diabetes complications. These include studies to create new treatments and enhance patient care. The DCCT study, for one, found that managing blood sugar well cuts risks of diabetic eye problems.17 In the UK, the first diabetes foot clinic is cutting down on amputations. It offers special care for diabetes foot issues.1

Using these resources and keeping up with the latest news helps folks with diabetes stay healthy. They can manage their condition better and lower the risk of serious complications.16


The complications of diabetes are troubling and can harm a person’s health in many ways. They can lead to eye, nerve, and heart problems, as well as damage to the kidneys. The risks are serious, potentially even life-threatening.3

Yet, there’s good news. By managing diabetes well, many of these issues can be controlled or postponed. Keeping blood sugar levels in check, living a balanced life, and seeing your doctor regularly are key. This way, people with diabetes can lower their chances of dealing with these severe health problems.3

Research shows that staying active, quitting smoking, and taking care of your mental health are also important.3 These steps help reduce the risks of diabetes complications. It’s crucial to think about how the environment and money matters influence diabetes risks.3 A complete strategy to prevent and handle diabetes includes these factors. With the right help and knowledge, those with diabetes can protect their health and well-being for the long run.


What are the complications of diabetes?

Diabetes can cause several serious issues. These include diabetic retinopathy (eye problems), heart attack, and stroke. It also can lead to foot and kidney issues. Nerve damage is another common problem.

How can diabetes complications be prevented or delayed?

To lower the risk of complications, managing diabetes well is key. This means taking medications and keeping a healthy lifestyle. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and health checkups are crucial.

What are the acute complications of diabetes?

Short-term problems of diabetes are hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. These involve low or high blood sugar. Diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, is a serious issue that needs quick medical help.

How does high blood sugar lead to diabetes complications?

High blood sugar over time harms the body. It can damage blood vessels, nerves, and organs. This damage causes various complications from diabetes.

What support and resources are available for people dealing with diabetes complications?

Help is out there for those with diabetes. There are helplines, online forums, and research efforts. They offer information and support for managing complications.

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