In people with diabetes, the excess glucose can lead to blood vessel disease called cardiovascular disease. Damaged blood vessels can become blocked and cause serious heart complications, such as a heart attack, and could also lead to a stroke. High blood pressure and high blood cholesterol (fat) can also damage the blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Keeping your blood glucose, blood pressure and blood fats under control can help reduce your risk of heart disease.
The main job of your kidneys is to filter your blood, keeping important things like protein in the body and filtering out waste products and extra fluid, which leave the body in the urine. Over time, high blood glucose levels (and/or high blood pressure) in people with diabetes can damage the tiny blood vessels and filters in the kidneys, causing them to leak. Protein and other substances are then lost in the urine.
Diabetic kidney disease doesn’t normally cause symptoms in the early stages, and by the time symptoms occur the damage to the kidneys can be quite serious. Luckily, regular testing can pick up the early signs of kidney damage (for example protein in the urine) and early treatment can help to slow down further kidney damage.
Diabetes can cause a serious condition called diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to sight loss if it’s not diagnosed or treated quickly. High blood glucose and blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in the eye. If this happens, not enough blood gets to the retina (the seeing part of the eye) and the vision is damaged.
There are different stages of diabetic nephropathy. If it is spotted at an early stage, there is more chance of being able to stop it getting worse. Regular eye tests are important for detecting damage at an early stage.
Over time, high blood glucose levels can damage the small vessels that supply blood to the nerves. This causes the nerves to stop working properly or even disappear. Nerve damage is also called neuropathy, and different types of neuropathy affect different nerves:
- Sensory neuropathy affects the nerves that allow you to feel things. Symptoms can include tingling and not being able to feel pain
- Autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves connected to organs and glands. Symptoms can include digestion problems and incontinence.
- Motor neuropathy affects the nerves involved in moving. Symptoms can include muscle weakness, loss of muscle tissue and twitching.
Diabetes can cause damage to nerves in the feet, which can mean you don’t feel a foot problem like a cut or a blister. It can also cause reduced blood flow to the feet which can slow down wound healing and affect your ability to fight infections. If foot problems aren’t treated in time, they can cause ulcers or infections, which in severe cases can lead to amputation.
Diabetes is one of the main causes of amputation of the lower limbs (lower legs, feet and toes) throughout the world, so it’s important to check your feet regularly (Click here for more information about foot care)