Most Common Long-term Complications of Diabetes

July 25, 2017 · Posted in Health 

For individuals with diabetes, serious health complications can occur when blood glucose levels are not properly managed over a period of time.

Cardiovascular Disease

The American Heart Association names diabetes as a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease and for suffering a stroke. This may be the result of certain conditions that are common among individuals with diabetes, such as high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels.

Working closely with a healthcare provider may facilitate early detection of risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.

Complications of the Eyes

Conditions of the eye that affect individuals with diabetes are referred to as diabetic eye diseases. Some of these conditions also affect individuals who do not have diabetes, but their risk is significantly lower.

Glaucoma – Glaucoma is a condition that develops when pressure builds up in the eye and damages the optic nerve. If left untreated, glaucoma may cause vision loss or blindness. However, if detected early, it is possible to protect the eyes against vision loss.

Cataracts – Cataracts are characterized by the clouding of the eye’s lens, which is the part of the eye that helps it focus. This cloudiness blocks out light and blurs vision. Additionally, diabetes increases one’s risk of developing cataracts earlier in life and typically causes cataracts to progress more quickly.

Diabetic retinopathy – Diabetic retinopathy affects the retina, which is the part of the eye that receives and processes light. The retina interprets light and converts it into an image that is sent to the brain through the optic nerve. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood glucose levels cause damage or abnormal growth of the small blood vessels in the retina.

Diabetic macular edema – Diabetic macular edema is a condition that occurs when fluid builds up in the macula, the part of the eye responsible for sharp vision required for activities such as reading and driving. Macular edema is the most common cause of vision loss among individuals with diabetic retinopathy.

Regular appointments with an eye care professional to monitor eye health can help detect diabetic eye disease early.

Nerve Damage

Roughly half of all individuals diagnosed with diabetes will experience some form of nerve damage. Nerve damage caused by the complications of diabetes is called diabetic neuropathy. This condition can affect and damage nerves in any part of the body.

When nerves in the arms and legs are affected, including the hands and feet, it is referred to as peripheral neuropathy. When nerves in the heart, stomach, intestines, bladder, sex organs, sweat glands, eyes, or lungs are affected, it is referred to as autonomic neuropathy.

The first signs of diabetic neuropathy typically involve numbness, tingling, or sharp pain in the feet or lower legs.

Kidney Disease

Consistently high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the kidneys and inhibit the proper function of filtering the body’s waste. This is referred to as diabetic nephropathy.

When blood glucose levels are too high, the kidneys filter too much blood. If this occurs for a long period of time, the added stress on the kidneys lead to a buildup of waste by-products in the bloodstream that can then affect other organs.

Preventing Complications from Diabetes

Work closely with your doctor to develop a diabetes management plan. Part of this plan will include monitoring blood glucose levels and managing them within a designated target range that best meets your body’s needs.

For individuals who require insulin to manage blood glucose levels, use of a touchscreen insulin pump may allow for more accurate management of blood glucose levels. In the past, insulin pumps have been a bit intimidating and difficult to comprehend, but newer touchscreen models are simple to learn and use, and worth asking your doctor about.

Correctly managing blood glucose levels may help prevent or delay long-term complications associated with diabetes.


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