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Preventing Diabetic Complications


What are diabetic complications?

Diabetic complications are health problems caused by diabetes. Diabetes causes your blood sugar level to be higher than normal. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels and nerves in your body. This damage can cause problems in many areas of the body. The main areas where there may be problems are the nerves and blood vessels in the legs and feet, eyes and kidneys. This sheet will tell you about some of the complications and how to help prevent them.

Nerve damage

Nerve damage (also called diabetic neuropathy) most often affects the feet and legs, but it can also affect other parts of the body. Nerve damage makes it hard for your nerves to send messages to the brain and other parts of the body. It can mean you lose feeling in parts of your body, or have painful tingling. If you have nerve damage, you may not be able to feel a blister or sore on your foot. The sore can become infected, and, in serious cases, the foot may have to be amputated (removed).

Warning signs of nerve damage

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Loss of feeling (numbness)
  • Sharp pain or tingling feeling
  • Weakness
  • Burning feeling
  • Failure to get an erection (in men)
Eye problems

Diabetes can damage and weaken the small blood vessels in the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that's sensitive to light and helps you see. This damage is called diabetic retinopathy.

When the blood vessels are weak, they can leak fluid, which causes swelling in the eye. The swelling blurs your vision. If the retinopathy gets worse, your eye makes new blood vessels over the retina. But these blood vessels are fragile and break open easily, which causes bleeding into the eye. Scar tissue can form, which may make the retina break away from the back of the eye and lead to blindness.

Laser surgery can often be used to treat or slow retinopathy, especially if it is found early.

Warning signs of eye problems

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Blurred vision for more than 2 days
  • Sudden loss of vision in 1 or both eyes
  • Black spots, cobwebs or flashing lights in your vision
  • Redness in the eye
  • Pain or pressure in your eye
Kidney damage

Diabetes can also damage the blood vessels in the kidney (called diabetic nephropathy). It's less common than the other complications. High blood pressure is associated with nephropathy. If you have diabetes and high blood pressure, it is important to keep them both under control as much as possible. Some people who have nephropathy need dialysis or kidney transplants.

Protein in the urine is usually the first sign of nephropathy. If you show early signs of this, your doctor can put you on medicine that helps protect the kidney from damage.

What can I do to prevent or delay these problems?

Because no one can predict for sure who will have complications, your best bet to prevent problems is to keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. Follow your doctor's instructions to control your blood sugar level. Here are some other tips:


This is a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. To find out if this handout applies to you and to get more information, talk to your doctor.

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