Long-Term Complications

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Harvard Medical School

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Long-Term Complications

Diabetes Type 1
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Keep On Track
Long-Term Complications
Long-Term Complications
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High blood sugar can damage many parts of the body over time.
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2011-12-21
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2014-12-21

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Long-Term Complications
 
Diabetes is associated with several long-term health problems. They involve many different areas of the body. Poor control of blood sugar makes these problems more likely to occur. However, they can develop even in people who have perfectly managed diabetes:
 
Eye damage (retinopathy) — This disorder involves the tiny blood vessels at the back of the eye. High blood sugar damages the vessels. Caught early, the damage caused by retinopathy can be kept to a minimum. To do this, you must strictly control blood sugar. Laser therapy by an eye doctor also can minimize your vision loss. Retinopathy eventually causes blindness for some people.
 
Nerve damage (neuropathy) — High blood sugar can damage nerves. Damage that leads to pain or numbness is called peripheral neuropathy. Symptoms in the feet, legs and hands are most common. Damage also can occur to nerves that control body functions, such as digestion and urination. This is called autonomic neuropathy.
 
Heart disease, stroke and artery diseaseHeart and blood-vessel problems can result from type 1 diabetes. People who have type 1 diabetes are more likely to have heart attacks and strokes. They also have a high risk of damage to blood vessels in the legs and arms. This is called peripheral vascular disease. Other problems related to poor circulation can occur as well.
 
Foot problemsFoot ulcers (open sores) commonly occur in people with diabetes. Ulcers usually get their start when an irritated area develops on the foot. If nerve damage causes numbness, rubbing from shoes may not be noticed. A callus can form. People with diabetes often have poor blood circulation. This can cause the callus or any other irritated area to deteriorate slowly at its center. The result is an ulcer. It may heal slowly or become infected. In extreme cases, poor circulation can lead to gangrene of one or more toes or a larger area. Gangrene is the death of soft tissue because of a lack of blood. Some areas damaged by gangrene may need to be removed by surgery (amputated). Most foot problems can be prevented with regular foot care.
 
Kidney disease (nephropathy) — High blood sugar can damage kidneys. As a result, they will not be able to remove waste products efficiently from the blood. Kidney failure can occur. This condition may require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
 
Sexual function problems — Nerve damage and artery problems can contribute to impotence among men with diabetes.
 
These potential health problems are serious. In some cases, they can be life-threatening. You can limit your risk of complications through careful blood sugar control, regular checkups and other measures.

 

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Last updated December 21, 2011


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