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arrow Complications

Complications of Diabetes

03 January 2007
What are diabetes complications?

Diabetes complications are medical problems that occur more often in people with diabetes than in people without diabetes. Changes in the blood vessels or the nerves are often the causes of diabetes complications.

  • Vascular disease

  • Some people with diabetes may be at greater risk for changes in large blood vessels. This is called vascular disease.

    It starts when the linings of the blood vessels get thicker. Then, blood has a hard time flowing through the narrowed vessel. As a result, the blood cannot carry nutrients to your body's many organs. Heart disease or stroke can result.


    The main warning signs of heart disease are chest pain, shortness of breath, swollen ankles, and/or irregular heart beat.

    When blood flow is blocked in the legs, you may experience weakness, pain, and/or cramping in the calves when walking. Your health-care practitioner can check for these symptoms (and others) of vascular disease during your regular office visits.

  • Small blood vessel disease

  • Damage to small blood vessels can occur in the eyes and kidneys of people with diabetes. At first, there may be no outward symptoms but damage to blood vessels can lead to blindness and kidney disease.


    Your health-care practitioner can check for symptoms of these complications during your regular office visits.

  • Nerve damage, or neuropathy (nerr-OP-ah-thee)

  • Most often, nerve damage affects the feet and legs.


    Symptoms of nerve damage include loss of feeling, tingling, burning, or pain in the feet and legs, and sometimes the hands. Nerve damage can also cause impotence (when a man cannot have an erection).

  • Amputation

  • Serious problems can occur in people who have nerve and blood vessel damage in the legs or feet. They may not feel a blister or a small cut on the foot. The blister or cut may become infected, which may sometimes lead to amputation.

    Who gets diabetes complications?

    No one can tell who will have diabetes complications. But experts think that keeping blood-sugar levels close to normal helps to prevent or delay trouble. High levels of sugar in the blood over time (poorly controlled diabetes) may speed the onset of complications.

    Good control of blood sugar may help delay some complications

    Some people try hard to control their blood sugars. But they still may have a complication. Experts aren't sure why this happens. But even if you do have complications, there is hope. So be sure to see your health-care practitioner regularly.

    What can you do now to avoid diabetes complications?

    First, get regular checkups. You may not know that you have a complication. But your health-care practitioner can spot trouble long before symptoms appear. Finding problems early is the best way to keep complications from getting serious.

    Keep your appointments with your health-care practitioner -- even if you are feeling fine. This includes your eye doctor and any other specialists you may need to see.

    Also be aware of the warning signs of trouble:

  • Vision problems (blurriness, spots).

  • Tiredness or pale skin colour.

  • 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.

  • Constant headaches (This may be a symptom of high blood pressure.)

  • If you have one or more of these symptoms, tell your health-care practitioner!

  • And practice good diabetes control. Taking care of your health makes medical sense. So...

  • Keep blood-sugar levels close to normal (control diabetes).

  • Control your weight.

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

  • Get regular exercise.

  • Have regular checkups.

  • Check your feet every day for minor cuts or blisters. Show them to your health-care practitioner.

  • Do not smoke.

  • If you have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, follow the medical advice you've been given.

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