The long-term complications of diabetes vary from individual-to-individual A variety of factors have an influence, like genetics, medical history, environmental exposures, behavior, lifestyle, diet, and associated conditions .
While complications and their severity may be highly variable, many of them are preventable with proper care and education. Set time aside to discuss your health risk factors and the complications you may be prone to with your care team. Your healthcare providers will be able to determine what complications you are at risk for or currently have. They can also look at prevention and treatment options with you.
Some of the possible complications of diabetes include:
Neuropathy – or nerve damage – is a condition where the nerves in the body become damaged over time. This causes pain, tingling, numbness, and loss of feeling.
About 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy.
One type of neuropathy, diabetic peripheral neuropathy is first noticed in the feet and toes, but may later be experienced in the fingers and hands. It is caused by multiple factors including long duration of diabetes, metabolic factors, mechanical injury to nerves, and lifestyle factors.
Doctors typically diagnose neuropathy on the basis of clinical symptoms and a physical exam that may include a monofilament test.
If you have diabetic neuropathy, you may not feel pain, so there can be a number of subsequent complications. These include the loss of a limb and Charcot foot or joint.
For more information on neuropathy please visit these resources:
- Diabetic Neuropathy – Mayo Clinic
- How do blood sugar levels affect your feet?
- Peripheral Neuropathy – American Diabetes Association
- Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy – Foot Health Facts
Diabetic retinopathy – or eye damage – involves changes to blood vessels in the retina of the eyes that results in distorted vision. Anyone with diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy, and many people experience few or no symptoms in the early stages of the disease.
In a recent study, conducted at CDC, it was found that almost one-third of adults with diabetes over 40 are affected by diabetic retinopathy.
Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy included blurred and distorted vision, impaired color vision, and total vision loss. The American Optometric Association recommends that everyone with diabetes have a comprehensive dilated eye examination once a year to detect the early signs of the disease.
For more information about diabetic retinopathy, please see these resources:
- Diabetic Retinopathy – Mayo Clinic
- What is Diabetic Retinopathy?
- Diabetic Retinopathy – American Optometric Association
Kidney Disease – Nephropathy
This serious complication of diabetes can impact people both with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. When someone has diabetic nephropathy, their kidneys have an impaired ability to remove waste products and extra fluid from the body. Eventually, this may lead to kidney failure.
As there are no symptoms of diabetic nephropathy in the early stages, it’s important to have regular urine tests. Additionally, there are further complications of diabetic nephropathy including cardiovascular disease, end-stage kidney disease, hyperkalemia, diabetic retinopathy, and pulmonary edema.
For more information on diabetic nephropathy see these resources:
- Diabetic Nephropathy – Mayo Clinic
- Diabetic Nephropathy – WebMD
- Kidney Disease (Nephropathy) – American Diabetes Association
There are a variety of complications due to diabetes related to the cardiovascular system including coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis. In fact, around 68% of people age 65 or older with diabetes die from some form of heart disease; and 16% die of stroke. Furthermore, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes.
Certain things may increase your risk for cardiovascular disease like smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and family history.
For more information on cardiovascular disease and diabetes, please see the following resources:
- Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke
- Heart Disease – American Diabetes Association
- Diabetes, Heart Disease, and You – CDC
There are a number of potential diabetes complications related to the feet and toes. In fact, it is estimated that up to 34% of people with diabetes will develop diabetic foot ulcers. Typically, foot ulcers result from other conditions like neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease.
A small cut or sore on the foot of someone with diabetes can quickly escalate into a larger problem. A small injury may become infected or turn gangrene. In fact, more than 50% of diabetic foot ulcers become infected. Because these wounds often do not heal, it can lead to amputation to prevent the infection from spreading to the rest of the body.
After a lower leg amputation, 80% of people pass away within 5 years. The risk of death doubles for people who have had a foot ulcer, so it is very important to catch any potential injury early on.
Furthermore, people with diabetes are prone to foot deformity like Charcot foot.
There are a number of things that you can do to protect your foot health. This includes wearing socks daily, monitoring foot temperature daily, do daily visual and physical foot checks, and regularly see your care team.
For additional resources on foot complications and diabetes check out the following resources:
- Diabetic Foot: How Temperature Monitoring Can Save Your Feet
- Diabetes Tips: 5 Ways to Take Care of Your Feet
- How do blood sugar levels affect your feet?