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Complications of Diabetes

Having high blood sugar for a long period of time can damage your body and complications can develop even before diabetes is diagnosed. Those who have risk factors for developing diabetes should see their doctor.


Retinopathy is a condition where tiny blood vessels in the eye become weak and can bleed, leading to blindness. Often there are no warning signs until vision is blurred. Laser treatment can help, but cannot restore vision that has already been lost. All people with diabetes should have a dilated eye exam done once a year by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) so the retina can be closely examined. Those with type 2 diabetes should have the exam done when they are first diagnosed with diabetes then yearly.


Neuropathy is a condition where nerves are damaged by diabetes. Messages to body parts are delayed or do not arrive. Symptoms can include numbness or tingling in the feet or hands. Neuropathy can affect your digestive tract, heart, lungs, sex organs and bladder. There are medications that can relieve some of the symptoms of neuropathy.

Heart and blood vessels

Smoking, high cholesterol levels, a high fat diet and inactivity can cause your blood vessels to become blocked. These blockages increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Medications may be ordered if a change in your diet and increased physical activity don�t lower your blood sugar, blood pressure or cholesterol levels. Have your cholesterol levels checked at least once a year. Normal levels are: HDL (good) cholesterol over 40 mg/dL (men) or 50 mg/dL (women), LDL (bad) cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL and triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL. Your blood pressure should be less than 130/80 mmHg.


Nephropathy is damage to your kidneys from high blood sugars and high blood pressure. Kidney damage causes protein to spill into the urine. A urine test called a microalbumin will show if there is protein in your urine. This test should be done every year. A normal value is less than 30. People with type 2 diabetes should have this test when they are first diagnosed with diabetes. A medication called an ACE inhibitor can also be ordered to lower blood pressure and protect the kidneys.

Amputation and Foot care

People with diabetes may have decreased circulation and sensation in their legs and feet. Blisters, cuts, scrapes and insect bites can become infected and, if not treated quickly, can lead to amputation. To keep your feet healthy, examine them each day or have someone examine them for you. If you have any reddened areas or wounds that are not healing quickly please notify your doctor or podiatrist.

Gum disease

If you have high blood sugar levels you may develop gum disease. Daily brushing and flossing is needed to decrease the amount of plaque in your mouth. See your dentist every 6 months to have a professional cleaning and exam of your teeth, gums and mouth.

Tips For Staying Healthy:

  • Keep your blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels as close to normal as possible
  • Have cholesterol and microalbumin levels done once a year
  • See your doctor every 3-6 months for routine follow-up care
  • See an ophthalmologist yearly for a dilated eye exam
  • See a podiatrist (foot specialist) once a year for comprehensive foot exam
  • Don�t smoke

Managing Diabetes

This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician and/ or other health care providers relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition. In no event will the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance upon the information provided within this website.

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