Health conditions

Complications of diabetes

What are the possible complications?

Research has shown that if people with diabetes, together with their health care team, can manage their diabetes well, the risk of complications are greatly reduced and may be either prevented or significantly delayed.

Kidney failure

The kidneys act as a filtering system for waste products. This filtering system is made up of many tiny blood vessels which can be damaged by raised blood glucose levels, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. If this damage continues to occur over a period of time, the kidneys stop working. Annual checkups lead to early discovery and prevention of further damage.

Eye damage

People with diabetes are at a high risk of eye damage. Eye damage occurs when small blood vessels in the retina (back of the eye) are damaged. It occurs over time and is a result of high blood glucose levels, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. This can lead to impaired vision or blindness. Check-ups every 1 to 2 years can lead to early discovery and prevention of further damage.

Cardiovascular disease

High blood glucose levels cause the blood to become thicker and stickier. This makes it harder for the heart to pump it around the body. High cholesterol and high blood pressure make the blood vessel walls thicker and harder. The increased pressure on the heart and blood vessels may result in heart attackstroke or blood vessel damage to the feet and arms (though this is less common). Annual checkups lead to early discovery and prevention of further damage

Nerve damage and foot complications

Having high blood glucose for a long time can damage nerves. Nerves are like power cords and when the insulation gets damaged by high blood glucose levels, the signals do not get through properly.

Nerve damage can result in loss of sensations in the feet and wounds can occur without the person noticing. Injuries that go unnoticed or untreated can lead to foot ulcers and amputation.

Nerve damage can also cause pain, often at the same time as having numb feet. Annual checkups lead to early discovery and prevention of further damage.

Nerve damage can also affect:

  • blood pressure – with a severe drop when standing
  • the bladder – it may lose the signal to urinate and as a result not empty completely
  • the stomach – it may take a lot longer for the food to pass from the stomach through to the small bowel, making it hard to predict affect of food on blood glucose levels and increasing the risk of low blood glucose levels
  • the bowels – uncontrollable diarrhoea may occur.

Sexual dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction for men and reduced sexual sensation for women can be a long-term problem with diabetes. It occurs when blood vessels or nerves in the area are damaged. Men may find it difficult to obtain or sustain an erection. Annual checkups lead to early discovery and prevention of further damage.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222
  • Phone the Diabetes WA Advice Line on 1300 001 880

Remember

  • People with diabetes are at risk of a number of serious complications including kidney disease, stroke and eye damage.
  • Complications can be prevented by annual health checks and good management of blood glucose levels.

This information provided by

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Acknowledgements
Diabetes WA

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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