Understanding Diabetes Complications

You can live a long and healthy life with diabetes! It's important to understand the potential complications from diabetes, but these problems are becoming less common due to improvements in tools for management and treatment.


One of the more common diabetes complications is increased risk for heart disease, but you can greatly reduce your risk by eating tasty, healthful meals and making enjoyable exercise part of your regular routine.

Here's the scoop on some complications associated with diabetes that you may have heard about. But remember that none of these problems is automatic, and there's a lot you can do to avoid them and to keep them from becoming severe if they do occur.

  • Neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is a nerve disorder caused by diabetes. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes experience some type of neuropathy. The key symptoms are tingling and numbness in the hands, feet, arms, or legs, although neuropathy can affect any part of the body (even the sex organs). Doctors don't know exactly how diabetes causes neuropathy, but it's possible that metabolic factors such as high blood glucose and low insulin levels play a role. You are also at increased risk if you've had diabetes for more than 25 years. In addition, researchers have some evidence to suggest that nerve injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, genetic susceptibility to nerve disease, and lifestyle habits such as smoking or alcohol use could contribute to diabetic neuropathy. If you have neuropathy, you can improve your symptoms by improving your glucose levels. And talk to your doctor about oral medications for pain relief as needed. More specific treatments vary depending on the location of the nerve pain.

  • Amputation due to infected wounds. Diabetes puts you at increased risk for foot and lower-leg wounds, called diabetic ulcers, because diabetes can damage the nerves in the feet, so any small wound has a harder time healing. If left untreated, a foot or leg ulcer can become so infected that amputation is required to prevent the infection from spreading. But you can prevent ulcers by examining your feet regularly and visiting your doctor at the first sign of any irritation or infection. You can reduce your risk by wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes and clean socks, and by exercising regularly to promote circulation.

  • Blindness. Diabetes does not automatically cause blindness, but it does make your eyes more susceptible to eye problems. Here's why: High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels in the retinas of the eyes by causing them to become swollen, clogged, and leaky (this condition is called diabetic retinopathy). Be sure to have an annual eye exam to identify problems early, because mild symptoms can be treated with laser surgery, but advanced damage may result in blindness. If you experience any blurriness or changes in vision, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Overall, you are more likely to develop diabetes complications if you have had diabetes for more than 25 years, or if you smoke, have high blood pressure, or are severely overweight. Fortunately, you can reduce your risk for developing severe diabetes complications with several easy steps. Try enhancing your diet with simple recipes such as those available at And treat yourself to a new pair of sneakers to inspire your regular walks.