From the Office of Research on Women’s Health
Complications of diabetes
If you have diabetes, you may be at greater risk for many serious health problems. But if you follow your treatment plan and make lifestyle changes, you may be able to prevent or delay serious health problems. Some common complications of diabetes are below.
Damage to the eyes can lead to severe vision loss or even blindness. Eye problems may include:
- Retinopathy: damage to the blood vessels in the retina. Diabetic retinopathy gets worse with time. You may not notice vision changes at first. Timely treatment and follow-up care help prevent serious vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes and is a leading cause of blindness in adults.
- Cataract: clouding of the eye’s lens. Cataracts develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes.
- Glaucoma: increase in fluid pressure inside the eye, which leads to optic nerve damage and loss of vision. A person with diabetes is nearly twice as likely to get glaucoma as other adults.
Diabetes is the most common cause of chronic kidney disease (CKD) and kidney failure, though most people with diabetes do not develop CKD that is severe enough to progress to kidney failure.
People with kidney failure undergo dialysis, an artificial blood-cleaning process, ortransplantation to receive a healthy kidney from a donor.
Researchers have found that high blood pressure and high levels of blood sugar increase the risk that a person with diabetes will develop kidney failure. Controlling your blood pressure and blood sugar may reduce your risk.
Diabetes can cause serious nerve problems, or neuropathies. People with diabetes can develop nerve damage throughout their body. Some people with nerve damage have no symptoms. Others may experience pain, tingling, or numbness – loss of feeling – in the hands, arms, feet, and legs. Nerve problems can occur in every organ system, including the digestive tract, heart, and sex organs. People with diabetes can develop nerve problems at any time, but risk rises with age and the longer a person has diabetes. Neuropathies also appear to be more common in people who have problems controlling their blood sugar as well as those who are overweight or who have high blood pressure or high levels of blood fat.
Foot ulcers and amputations
People with diabetes need to take special care of their feet. The nerves to the feet, the longest in the body, are most often affected in diabetes. Loss of sensation in the feet means that sores or injuries may go unnoticed and may become ulcerated or infected.
Circulation problems also increase the risk of foot ulcers. More than half of all lower-limb amputations in the United States occur in people with diabetes – 86,000 amputations per year.
Health care providers estimate that nearly half of the amputations caused by neuropathy and poor circulation could have been prevented by careful foot care.
People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including periodontal, or gum disease. For more information on dental health, please see Week 13.
For more information: www.ndep.nih.gov