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Diabetes Complications

Topic Overview

Sometimes complications develop even when risk factors such as blood sugar level and blood pressure have been controlled. But following your treatment to control your blood sugar levels is still an important part of your treatment.

The most common serious complications from diabetes are coronary artery disease (CAD) and stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and foot disease. All diabetes complications can require specialized medical treatment depending on their severity. Some of these conditions, such as CAD, may be adequately managed by your primary care doctor. If the disease progresses, you may need to see a specialist.

Symptoms of diabetes complications can develop when you have prediabetes, diabetes that has not been diagnosed early, and even diabetes that has been treated.

Complications of diabetes and symptoms of serious problems

Complication of diabetes

Consequences

Symptoms

Small blood vessel (microvascular) diseases
Weakening of small blood vessels called capillaries causes blood to leak from the vessel.

Eyes: Damage to the retina, the part of the eye that captures images

  • Impaired vision and, in severe cases, blindness

Kidneys: Impaired functioning of the kidneys, and, in severe cases, kidney failure

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramping
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Swelling from retention of body fluids

Nerves: Decreased sensation, especially common in the feet and hands; weakness; abnormal functioning of some organ systems

  • Numbness, tingling, weakness in the feet and hands
  • Swings in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting from abnormal functioning of the digestive tract
  • Impotence in men
  • Double vision
Large blood vessel (macrovascular) disease
Increased plaque in large blood vessels throughout the body can cause heart attacks, strokes, and compromised circulation.

Heart disease: Problems with the circulatory system that weaken the heart

  • Chest pain and shortness of breath
  • Decreased tolerance for physical activity
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Swelling of the legs and ankles
  • Palpitations (feeling like the heart is racing or pounding)

Strokes: Blood supply to the brain is cut off, usually caused by a blood clot in an artery.

  • Impaired speech
  • Inability to see
  • Inability to walk
  • Paralysis on one side of the body, numbness, or tingling

Peripheral arterial disease: Blood has trouble reaching the extremities, such as the hands and feet.

  • Pain in the calves when walking
  • Coolness of the lower extremities
  • Loss of hair on the legs
  • Ulcers that do not heal promptly, on the legs
Impaired immune system functioning

Frequent infections, sometimes with unusual types of bacteria and fungus

  • Symptoms associated with a variety of infectious diseases, including fever, abscesses, and redness

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Jennifer Hone, MD - Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
Last Revised July 1, 2011

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