High blood sugar levels can seriously damage parts of your body, including your feet and your eyes. These are called diabetes complications. But you can take action to prevent or delay many of these side effects of diabetes.
What are the major complications of diabetes?
You might hear your healthcare team talk about two types of diabetes complications: serious ones that build up over time called chronic complications and ones that can happen at any time called acute complications. These are long-term problems that can develop gradually, and can lead to serious damage if they go unchecked and untreated.
Some people with diabetes develop an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy which can affect their eyesight. If retinopathy is picked up – usually from an eye screening test - it can be treated and sight loss prevented.
Related conditions, like cancer
If you have diabetes, you’re more at risk of developing certain cancers. And some cancer treatments can affect your diabetes and make it harder to control your blood sugar.
Heart attack and stroke
When you have diabetes, high blood sugar for a period of time can damage your blood vessels. This can sometimes lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Diabetes can cause damage to your kidneys over a long period of time making it harder to clear extra fluid and waste from your body. This is caused by high blood sugar levels and high blood pressure. It is known as diabetic nephropathy or kidney disease.
Some people with diabetes may develop nerve damage caused by complications of high blood sugar levels. This can make it harder for the nerves to carry messages between the brain and every part of our body so it can affect how we see, hear, feel and move.
Too much sugar in your blood can lead to more sugar in your saliva. This brings bacteria which produces acid which attacks your tooth enamel and damages your gums. The blood vessels in your gums can also become damaged, making gums more likely to get infected.
Diabetes foot problems are serious and can lead to amputation if untreated. Nerve damage can affect the feeling in your feet and raised blood sugar can damage the circulation, making it slower for sores and cuts to heal.
Sexual problems in women
You may lose some sensation in your genital organs if blood flow to those areas is restricted due to blood vessel and nerve damage. You are more prone to get thrush or a urinary tract infection if you have high blood sugar.
Sexual problems in men
The amount of blood flowing to your sexual organs can be restricted which may cause you to have difficulty getting aroused. It may lead to erectile dysfunction, sometimes called impotence.
How do I prevent or delay complications?
They’re not inevitable. Keeping blood sugar, blood pressure and blood fats under control will hugely help to reduce your risk of developing complications. This means going to your diabetes health checks and finding out from your diabetes healthcare team how to look after yourself between appointments.You can prevent or delay the complications of diabetes. But you need to take action and it’s all about managing your diabetes well.
Manage your diabetes
Keeping your HbA1c within the target range set by your healthcare team is really important for reducing your risk complications. If your blood sugar levels are rising, talk to your doctor. Your treatment may need to change to get your HbA1c back in target to avoid the complications of high blood sugar.
Smoking makes it harder for blood to flow around your body to places like your heart and your feet. If you smoke, then stopping is a key part of reducing your chances of complications. Again, your GP and diabetes team will be able to help you quit.
Eat more healthily
Making healthier food choices can help you to lose weight, bring down your HbA1c, manage your blood pressure and help you reduce the fats in your blood like cholesterol. Ask to see a dietitian if you'd like extra help to eat healthily.
Doing more physical activity helps reduce your chance of getting complications. If you struggle to get about, there are still ways you can keep active. We’ve got lots of type 222.