Long term complications of diabetes

Diabetes makes your blood sugar higher than normal. After many years, too much sugar in the blood can cause problems in your body. It can harm your eyes, kidneys, nerves, skin, heart, and blood vessels.

  1. You could have eye problems. You could have trouble seeing, especially at night. Light could bother your eyes. You could become blind.
  2. Your feet and skin can develop sores and infections. If it goes on too long, your foot or leg may need to be removed. Infection can also cause pain and itching in other areas.
  3. Diabetes may make it harder to control your blood pressure and cholesterol. This can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other problems. It can become harder for blood to flow to the legs and feet.
  4. Nerves in the body can become damaged, causing pain, tingling, and loss of feeling.
  5. You could have problems digesting the food you eat. You could feel weakness or have trouble going to the bathroom. Nerve damage can also make it harder for men to have an erection.
  6. High blood sugar and other problems can lead to kidney damage. They might not work as well and may even stop working.

Take Control of Your Diabetes

It is very important to keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol level in a healthy range. You should learn the basic steps for managing diabetes and staying as healthy as possible.

Such steps will include diet, exercise, and sometimes medicines. You may need to check your blood sugar daily or more often. Your doctor will also help you by taking blood tests and other tests. These steps will help you keep complications of diabetes away.

You will need to check your blood sugar levels to see how you are doing.

  • You will use a special device called a glucometer. Your doctor will let you know if you need to check it every day and how many times per day. See also: Home blood sugar testing
  • Your doctor will also tell you what blood sugar numbers you are trying to achieve. These goals will be set for different times during the day. See also: Managing your blood sugar

To prevent heart disease and stroke, you may be asked to take medicine and change how you live:

  • Your doctor may ask you to take a medicine called an ACE inhibitor or a different medicine called an ARB, for high blood pressure or kidney problems.
  • Your doctor may ask you to take a medicine called a statin to keep your cholesterol down.
  • Your doctor may ask you to take aspirin to prevent heart attacks. Ask your doctor if aspirin is right for you.
  • Regular exercise is very good for people with diabetes. Talk to your doctor first about what exercises are best for you and how much you need.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking makes diabetes complications worse. If you do smoke, work with your doctor to find a way to quit.

To keep your feet healthy, you should:

  • Check and care for your feet EVERY DAY.
  • Get a foot exam by your doctor at least every 6 - 12 months and learn whether you have nerve damage.
  • Make sure you are wearing the right kind of shoes.

A nurse or dietician will teach you about good food choices to lower your blood sugar and stay healthy. Make sure you know how to put together a balanced meal with protein and fiber. Try to eat at the same times each day.

See Your Doctor Often

If you have diabetes, you should see your health care providers every 3 months. At these visits your health care provider may:

  • Ask you about your blood sugar levels
  • Check your blood pressure
  • Check the feeling in your feet
  • Check the skin and bones of your feet and legs
  • Examine the back part of your eyes
  • Send you to the laboratory for blood and urine tests to:
    • Make sure your kidneys are working well (every year)
    • Make sure your cholesterol and triglyceride levels are healthy (every year)
    • Check your HbA1c level to see how well your blood sugar is controlled (every 3 - 6 months)

Visit the dentist every 6 months.

You should see your eye doctor once per year. But your health care provider may ask you to see your eye doctor more often.


American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes -- 2010. Diabetes Care. 2010 Jan;33 Suppl 1:S11-61.

Update Date: 11/11/2012

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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