Diabetic complications are additional health concerns that accompany a type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus diagnosis. They range in severity. While some are easily managed and don’t cause much disruption day-to-day, others can have a pretty big impact on your life.
Once you’re diagnosed with diabetes, your mind can rush to the worst. It’s overwhelming and can feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. Luckily, many of these diabetic complications or diabetes side effects can be prevented through lifestyle changes and regularly seeing your doctor. You can also lean on your loved ones and support system to help you through.
This is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. So pace yourself, be kind to yourself, and remember that you can take small steps. Progress isn’t linear, and every day is a new one.
But to keep you informed on what other health problems you might run into, let’s chat more.
What are common complications of diabetes? We’ve got seven of the most common listed here.
1. Diabetic foot ulcers
When you’re diagnosed with diabetes, foot problems are probably one complication that you’ve heard about. Diabetes can lead to foot ulcers, which are open sores or wounds located typically on the bottom of the foot.
The reason diabetic foot ulcers form is usually due to a combination of factors, including nerve damage from uncontrolled blood sugars. Over time, this nerve damage can make it really hard to feel any pain — especially in lower extremities like the foot.
Coincidentally, uncontrolled blood sugar can also slow healing. That’s why your doctor may request a medical clearance for certain surgical procedures once you have diabetes. They’re concerned with your healing rate, and they want to make sure your blood sugar is well controlled.
Because healing can be impacted by diabetes, a foot wound can turn into a bigger problem. But it usually starts quite easily.
You might stub your toe. A rock might get caught in your sock while walking outside. Or maybe your shoes rub up against parts of your feet. If you struggle to feel pain because of nerve damage, it would be harder to notice this wound.
Over time, this wound could become infected and become more severe. That’s when a foot ulcer can start to cause bigger problems. In more serious cases, it might even lead to amputation.
But you can help prevent diabetic foot ulcers. As much as possible, check your feet. If you can’t check them on your own, ask a caregiver to help. Regularly see your doctor and let them know if you’re noticing any foot issues.
You can also check out thermometry-based solutions. These solutions use temperature sensors to detect any signs of foot inflammation, which keep you and your doctor one step ahead. Our SmartMat is one example.
2. Diabetic eye disease or diabetic retinopathy
Diabetes can impact eye health. Diabetic eye disease is also known as diabetic retinopathy. This complication is caused by blood vessel damage to the back of the eye (retina).
Blood vessels can become damaged when blood sugar, or glucose, levels are too high for too long. Most people don’t notice any symptoms at first. As it progresses, there may be changes to your vision like blind spots, blurriness, dark floating strings, and other inconsistencies with how you see.
The best way to stay on top of your diabetic eye health is to make sure you visit an ophthalmologist regularly and manage your blood sugar. Medication, diet, and exercise are all ways to improve blood sugar levels.
3. Nerve damage or diabetic neuropathy
Another complication of diabetes is nerve damage or diabetic neuropathy. Again, high blood sugar is the culprit. Over time, nerves inside your body can be damaged due to elevated glucose.
Most of the time, this diabetic nerve damage affects the legs and feet. This is another reason why foot ulcers can form in people with diabetes. Nerve damage can sometimes cause numbness. This makes it hard to feel pain, which means someone may not notice a foot wound.
But diabetic neuropathy doesn’t just cause numbness. It can also cause pain. And it can spread throughout the body, impacting the digestive system, heart, blood vessels, and urinary tract.
There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy: peripheral neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy, proximal neuropathy, and mononeuropathy. If you notice anything concerning, reach out immediately to your doctor.
4. Mental health
One of the most common complications of diabetes is its impact on mental health. It is completely normal to experience depression, anxiety, and even PTSD from your diagnosis, especially if you’re struggling with several health conditions.
It’s important that you take care of yourself, and you’re the best judge of what you need. Rest and recharge often. Set boundaries if needed to preserve your emotional bandwidth. You can also build up a support system to help. Your family, friends, support groups, and therapists can all be advocates for your mental health.
If needed, you can consult with mental health professionals to discuss options for treatment. You don’t need to suffer through this alone. Reach out if you need help. If you’re currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
5. Oral health
Oral health problems due to diabetes are also caused by high blood sugar, which weakens your white blood cells and makes your mouth more susceptible to infection.
There are several oral health conditions associated with diabetes. The most common are dry mouth, gum disease, and thrush. To help prevent these problems, continue good oral health habits like brushing, flossing, and visiting your dentist regularly. Make sure your doctors and dentist are both in the loop about your diabetes. This will help them make the best decisions for your care.
6. Kidney disease
Another common side effect of diabetes is kidney disease, or diabetic nephropathy. About 1 in 3 Americans have diabetic nephropathy or diabetic kidney disease.
Diabetes can affect the kidneys when blood vessels and cells become damaged due to high blood glucose. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels that filter waste in the kidneys, leading to kidney failure.
Diabetic nephropathy can impact the rest of the body, so it’s important to stay on top of it. It can be hard to notice anything at first, so regular doctor’s visits are key. Through blood testing, your doctor can keep an eye on your kidney function and step in if necessary. There are several ways to treat diabetic kidney disease, depending on your specific case. Your doctor will determine the best course of action if they notice anything in your lab test results.
7. Heart disease
Diabetes can impact the heart by damaging nerves and blood vessels if your blood sugar is too high for too long.
Heart disease is a condition seen with diabetes because there are risk factors that overlap. Many people with diabetes also have high triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, or too much bad cholesterol (LDL).
People without diabetes also have these conditions, but diabetes can cause further risk when blood sugar remains elevated. That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of blood glucose levels, whether through lifestyle changes or medication.
All seven of our top common complications of diabetes are made worse due to ongoing high blood sugar. Getting your blood sugar down is hard work, and remember that every step is progress even if it doesn’t feel like it. Work with your doctor to try medications that help, and you can always chat with a diabetes educator or nutritionist to learn more about what you can do.