Diabetes Complications


The unfortunate truth: having diabetes can significantly increase your risk for additional health problems. Potential complications can develop over time if blood glucose levels aren’t diligently managed. Some of the risks to the body are mildly irritating or debilitating while others are more serious and potentially life-threatening. The good news? Keeping your blood glucose levels in check may prevent these major complications:

Heart Disease (Cardiovascular Health)

How can diabetes affect my heart?

Heart disease is the leading cause of early death among people with diabetes. Adults with diabetes are two to three times more likely than people without diabetes to die of heart disease or have a stroke. Also, about 74 percent of people with diabetes have high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease.

Kidney Disease

How can diabetes affect the kidneys?

In diabetic kidney disease (also called diabetic nephropathy), cells and blood vessels in the kidneys are damaged, affecting the organs’ ability to filter out waste. Waste builds up in your blood instead of being excreted. In some cases, this can lead to kidney failure. When your kidneys fail, you will have to have your blood filtered through a machine (dialysis) several times a week, or you will need a kidney transplant.

Nerve Damage

How can diabetes affect nerve endings?

Having high blood glucose for many years can damage blood vessels that bring oxygen to some nerve endings. Damaged nerves may stop, slow, or send messages at wrong times. Numbness, pain and weakness in the hands, arms, feet and legs may develop. Problems may also occur in various organs, including the digestive tract, heart and sex organs. Diabetic neuropathy is the medical term for damage to the nervous system from diabetes. The most common type is peripheral neuropathy, which affects the arms and legs.

An estimated 50 percent of people with diabetes have some nerve problems, but not all have symptoms. Nerve problems can develop at any time, but the longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk. The highest rates of nerve problems are among people who have had the disease for at least 25 years.

Diabetic nerve problems also are more common in people who have problems controlling their blood glucose levels, blood pressure, weight and in people over the age of 40.

Digestive Problems

How can diabetes affect the digestion?

Gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying) is a disorder where the stomach takes too long to empty itself due to nerve damage. It frequently occurs in people with type 2 diabetes. Symptoms of gastroparesis include heartburn, nausea, vomiting of undigested food, an early feeling of fullness when eating, weight loss, abdominal bloating, erratic blood glucose levels, lack of appetite, gastroesophageal reflux and spasms of the stomach wall.

Foot Problems

Why is it especially important to take care of my feet if I have diabetes?

Sometimes nerve damage can deform or misshape your feet, causing pressure points that can turn into blisters, sores, or ulcers. Poor circulation can make these injuries slow to heal. Sometimes this can lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or leg.

Sexual Response

How can diabetes affect my sexual response?

Many people with diabetic nerve damage have trouble having sex. For example, men can have trouble maintaining an erection and ejaculating. Women can have trouble with sexual response and vaginal lubrication. Both men and women with diabetes can get urinary tract infections and bladder problems more often than average.

Oral Health

How can diabetes affect my mouth, teeth and gums?

People with diabetes are more likely to have problems with their teeth and gums due to high blood glucose. And like all infections, dental infections can make your blood glucose go up. Sore, swollen and red gums that bleed when you brush your teeth are a sign of a dental problem called gingivitis. Another problem, called periodontitis, happens when your gums shrink or pull away from your teeth.

People with diabetes can have tooth and gum problems more often if their blood glucose stays high. Smoking also makes it more likely for you to have gum disease, especially if you have diabetes and are age 45 or older.


How can diabetes affect the eyes?

In diabetic eye disease, high blood glucose, and high blood pressure cause small blood vessels to swell and leak liquid into the retina of the eye, blurring the vision and sometimes leading to blindness. People with diabetes are also more likely to develop cataracts (a clouding of the eye’s lens) and glaucoma (optic nerve damage). Laser surgery can in some cases help these conditions.


Bacterial infections, such as styes, boils, infections of hair follicles, and deep infections of and underneath the skin and nails are common without proper control of blood sugar levels. Fungal infections (yeast infections) are another potential skin complication, resulting in rashes that run rampant in the warm, moist creases of skin, like under the breasts, between fingers and toes, in the armpits, the groin and under the foreskin in uncircumcised men. Localized itching can also be a symptom of diabetes, caused by a yeast infection, dry skin, or poor circulation, which causes the lower parts of the legs to be most irritated.