Diabetes Complications and Risks

Video: What to know about diabetes and heart disease

The effect diabetes has on the body happens slowly, and can often progress without notice. Over time, having too much glucose (sugar) in the blood can damage a number of organs. These are often referred to as “complications” of diabetes.

If you have been told you have prediabetes, you can take important healthy steps now to reduce your risk of developing a number of health problems:

Heart and blood vessel damage

Type 2 diabetes can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including atherosclerosis, stroke, peripheral artery disease and kidney disease.

Nerve damage

Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage nerves, a condition called diabetic neuropathy. This can lead to numbness in the fingers, hands, toes and feet or tingling, burning or shooting pains that usually begins at the fingers or toes and spread upwards. Symptoms of this nerve damage can also include vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, problems with sexual function, dizziness, and other symptoms.

Kidney damage

The kidneys filter about a half cup of blood every minute, removing wastes and extra fluid from your body. Over time, diabetes can damage your kidneys so they no longer work effectively, requiring either dialysis or a transplant.

Eye damage

Damage to the blood vessels in the eye can eventually lead to blindness and increases the risk of cataracts and glaucoma.

Foot damage

Feet are also vulnerable to the nerve and blood vessel damage from prolonged high blood sugar. Minor cuts and blisters can lead to ulcers, infections, and amputations in serious cases.

Skin and mouth conditions

Diabetes may increase the risk of skin infections, mouth infections and gum disease.


People with Type 1 diabetes have a high risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes your bones to become weak and brittle, making them more susceptible to fracture.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Poor blood sugar control appears to have some effect on the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life. The reasons why are still being investigated, but we know brain cells are fueled by glucose. When the cells can’t access the fuel supply they need, the brain cells may become damaged.

Although the list of diabetes-related problems is lengthy, it’s important to realize these problems primarily occur when diabetes is left untreated.

The good news is that diabetes can be managed and is often preventable. By adopting a healthy lifestyle and treating all related conditions, most people with diabetes can postpone these problems or avoid them all together.

If you have diabetes, you may be able to avoid or delay other health complications by:

Interactive Cardiovascular Library Thumbnail image

Watch, Learn and Live

See your cardiovascular system in action with our interactive illustrations and animations.