Avoiding the Complications of Diabetes

The goal of diabetes care is to keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range so that excess sugar does not damage your body’s organs, blood vessels and nerves.

Eye disease

Too much blood sugar and high blood pressure can damage the retina, which is made up of tiny blood vessels at the back of your eyes. Retina damage caused by diabetes is called diabetic retinopathy (ret-ih-nop-uh-thee). Because you may have retina damage without knowing it, you should have an eye exam in which your doctor dilates your eyes once a year.

Some warning signs of diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Poor night vision
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Blank, dark or floating spots

Uncontrolled diabetes can also make it more likely that the lens of your eyes will become clouded, a condition known as a cataract. People with cataracts often complain of cloudy or fuzzy vision.

Uncontrolled diabetes also makes it more likely that you’ll develop glaucoma, a condition in which the pressure inside your eyes becomes too high. An early warning sign of glaucoma is trouble seeing out of the corners of your eyes.

Keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range and keeping your blood pressure low can help prevent eye problems. Regular eye exams can catch problems earlier, when they are often easier to treat.

Heart disease

People with diabetes are at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Heart disease includes coronary artery disease (the hardening and thickening of the blood vessels in the heart), heart failure, peripheral artery disease (the narrowing of the blood vessels in the legs). Strokes occur when blood vessels in the brain are blocked or break open.

To reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, get plenty of physical activity and eat a balanced diet that is low in fat. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. You may not notice some of the early signs of heart disease, so it’s important that you visit your doctor for regular checkups.

Kidney disease

Your kidneys are made up of a network of tiny blood vessels that filter blood and produce urine. High blood sugar and high blood pressure can damage these delicate blood vessels.

Kidney damage can occur without any warning signs, which is why you should have your blood and urine tested at least once a year for signs of kidney problems. You can reduce the risk of kidney damage by keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range and your blood pressure low.

Nerve damage

Your nervous system allows your brain and body to communicate. High blood sugar can cause nerve damage, a condition known as diabetic neuropathy (ne-rop-uh-thee). There are three main types of nerves, with damage to each of these types causing different complications.

Peripheral nerves go to the arms, hands, feet, and legs. Some symptoms of peripheral nerve damage include tingling, numbness, or decreased sensitivity to pain, heat, or cold.

Small cuts or blisters, especially on the feet, can go unnoticed when the peripheral nerves are damaged. If left untreated, small cuts or blisters can become infected and – in bad cases – may require that the infected area be amputated. Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about proper foot care and the importance of wearing shoes that fit right.

Autonomic nerves control the digestive system, bladder, sexual organs, and blood pressure. Damage to the autonomic nerves can cause digestive symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, urinary problems, sexual dysfunction and can make it more difficult to control your blood pressure, causing dizziness. Talk to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Cranial nerves go to the eyes and face. Damage to the cranial nerves can cause brief periods of double vision or may cause the muscles in your face to sag suddenly for short periods of time. Let your doctor know if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.