Long-Term Complications of High Blood Sugar

Blindness, kidney failure, and foot amputations are three complications of diabetes that many people know about. These are some of the scary effects of having high blood sugars over a long period of time.

In fact, the fear of complications can either motivate a person with diabetes to manage or improve their blood sugar levels or it may cause them to feel powerless about avoiding additional health problems. What are some long-term complications and what causes them?

What causes complications?

Complications develop slowly over time from the effects of too much glucose circulating in the blood stream. If too much glucose builds up inside the lining of either the small or large blood vessels, it can cause a thickened area or a blockage. Damage to the small blood vessels in the eye, for instance, can cause bleeding, which affects a person’s ability to see. Too much glucose in the blood can also damage nerve cells and their ability to send and receive messages to the brain. Too much glucose can also affect the body’s ability to fight off infections.

Long-term complications

  • Eye problems (retinopathy)
  • Kidney disease (nephropathy)
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy)
    • Peripheral neuropathy - pain or numbness in fingers, toes, feet, or lower legs; this complication, in addition to poor circulation and infection, may eventually necessitate an amputation
    • Autonomic neuropathy – problems with sexual function, changes in stomach and bowel function
    • Frequent skin and bladder infections, yeast infections, tooth and gum disease

Diabetes increases the risk of developing long-term complications, but these do not have to happen. A large research study, the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, showed that improving one’s A1c value helps reduce the risk of complications.

For help in achieving an A1c of less than 7 percent, follow your doctor’s recommendations for medications, food intake, and exercise, and meet regularly with a certified diabetes educator to adjust these recommendations as needed. Regular eye checkups, blood tests for kidney function, and daily inspections of your feet and skin are also part of preventing or identifying symptoms early.

And if you still smoke, stop as soon as possible. Let your concerns about complications help you take control of your diabetes!

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