Dr. M.J. Bazos,
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 eyes, kidneys, legs and feet. This handout will tell you about some of the
complications and how to help prevent them.
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 a painful tingling feeling. 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
- Burning feeling
- Failure to get an erection (in men)
The retina is the part of the eye
that's sensitive to light and helps you see. Diabetes can damage and weaken the
small blood vessels in the retina. 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.
This 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 down 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
- Redness in your eye
- Pain or pressure in your eye
Diabetes can also damage the blood
vessels in the kidney (called diabetic nephropathy) so it can't filter out the
body's waste. This is 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. (Dialysis
is a treatment that eliminates waste from the blood.) Protein in the urine is
usually the first sign of nephropathy. If your doctor notices early signs of
this, he or she can put you on medicine that helps protect the kidney from
What can I do to prevent or
delay diabetic complications?
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:
- Eat a variety of healthy foods and avoid foods
that are high in fat and sugar.
- Exercise regularly.
- Quit smoking.
- See your doctor regularly, even when you feel OK.
Your doctor will check for early signs of complications.
- Call your doctor right away if you have any of
the warning signs listed in this handout.
- See your doctor (or an ophthalmologist or
optometrist) once a year for an examination of the retina.