Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a number of serious problems, including retinopathy, kidney damage, heart disease, nerve damage and ketoacidosis.
Retinopathy is an eye disorder that can cause blindness. In fact, diabetes causes an estimated 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year. Preventive measures such as sugar control, hypertension management and blood lipid regulation are effective. In most patients who experience retinopathy, vision loss isn't significant, but it's important to keep close tabs on this condition with regular visits to the eye doctor.
Heart disease is common in people with diabetes, especially type 2. Obesity, aging and a sedentary lifestyle are contributing risk factors to both heart disease and diabetes. The most common cause of heart disease in a person with diabetes is atherosclerosis — a buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels. Heart disease is often present prior to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
Damage to nerves and hardening of the arteries can lead to decreased sensation and poor blood circulation in the feet. Damage to nerves can also cause digestive problems such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
A condition called ketoacidosis can occur when insulin levels get too low or glucose builds up, making the blood too acidic. This severe complication can be caused by infection, illness or going without insulin for too long.
Nephropathy, a type of kidney damage, is another complication of diabetes. The risk of developing kidney disease increases over time and can lead to kidney failure and heart disease. Careful control of blood glucose levels can help prevent kidney disease.
Written by Trisha Creekmore
Reviewed by Beth Seltzer, MD
Last updated June 2008