Complications of Diabetes

The complications of diabetes are many. Most organ systems in the body seem to be affected by diabetes complications. These complications can be prevented by learning what they are and working toward prevention. Below you will find how different organ systems are affected.

Diabetes Complications to Brain and Nerves

One of the diabetes complications that affect the brain is the formation of plaques. Diabetes has been implicated in the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain, which results in dementia. In the nerves, diabetes damage the nerve endings, especially in the toes and fingers. This results in peripheral neuropathy.

Excess sugar deposits cause damage to the nervous system. This can cause diabetic peripheral neuropathy where the person may lose sensation in fingers and toes. Sometimes the people can experience tingling or diabetic foot pain.

Diabetic neuropathy can also cause numbness or lack of feeling. It is a good practice for diabetics with diabetic neuropathy to check the temperature of warm water with thermometer as they can no longer depend on their sensation to detect suitable temperature. This can help to prevent serious burns.

Heart Disease and Stroke Complications of Diabetes

Diabetes complications that affect the circulatory systems include those of heart disease and stroke. Diabetes results in the build-up of plaques that cause blockage in arteries. This can result in heart attack, also called myocardial infarction or MI. Plaques in the blood vessels also result in stroke or cardiovascular accident (CVA). Diabetes increases blood cholesterol and increases plaque formation which leads to stroke.


High blood pressure is another complication of diabetes that affects the circulatory system. Diabetes increases the risk for hypertension. Blood sugar deposits on the blood vessels cause the vessels to become less elastic. As the elasticity of the blood vessels decrease, their resistance increases. This causes increase in blood pressure

Blindness and Eye Problems

Diabetic retinopathy is the eye disease caused by diabetes. Sugar deposits cause the neurons controlling the eye to loose function. Poor blood circulation can also be a contributing factor because the eye is not well nourished. This can lead to blindness in some diabetics. Retinopathy leads to blindness if not treated early enough.

Ears and Hearing

Hearing loss has been found twice as common in people with diabetes when compared with people who do not have the disease. Also, those with prediabetes are 30%more likely to have hearing loss than those who do not have diabetes.

The Digestive System

Gastroparesis is one of the complications of diabetes that affects the digestive system. Gastroparesis is caused by the damage to the nerves that stimulate the intestines, leading to slow emptying of the intestines. This causes digestive problems like heart burn and constipation.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal gum disease is another complication of diabetes, where the teeth separate from the gum.

Urinary System and Kidney Disease

Diabetic kidney disease is one of the complications of diabetes. Blood sugar deposits in the kidney destroy some parts of the kidney leading to kidney failure and chronic kidney disease also called CKD. Diabetes is the single most contributing cause of end-stage kidney disease. According to the National Institute of Health, (NIH), diabetes is responsible for about 44% of the new cases of kidney disease.

Incontinence, especially in women, is a diabetes complication. Diabetes damages the nerves that control the bladder. This may result in the nerves sending the wrong signal to the bladder, which may empty unexpectedly. Polyuria or too much urination results when the blood sugar is very high. The kidney in trying to get rid of excess sugar, removes water faster than normal. This may add to incontinence in diabetics.

Urinary tract infections are more common in diabetics than those without the disease.

The Muscular System Complications of Diabetes

Gangrene and Amputations

Diabetic foot pain is a common complication of diabetes. Gangrene and Amputations of the lower extremity is another complication of diabetes that can be caused by damage to the nervous system and blood vessels. This can result in tissues not being well stimulated and not well supplied with blood. This can lead to cell death due to gangrene

Diabetic Gangrene

The Skin

Complications of diabetes that affect the skin are many and they range from infections, dryness, cracks in skin, itching to the thickening of the skin. The skin complications progress into diabetic wounds or diabetic ulcers

The Reproductive System

The reproductive System has its own share of diabetes complications. Erectile dysfunction is one of the complications of diabetes. This is because of damage to the nerves that are responsible for stimulating the penis.

Diabetes can also decrease blood supply to the penis and this can contribute to erectile dysfunction and impotence. Erectile dysfunction results from diabetes because the damage to nerves and blood vessels affect the tissues. The nerves do not send the right signal for erection. The blood supply is reduced because of the effects of diabetes.

Women too may experience decreased vaginal sensation due to damage to the nerves and decreased blood supply.

Diabetes Complications in Pregnancy

The effect of diabetes on pregnancy can depend on whether the diabetes is type 1 or type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the fetus is at risk for birth defect if the blood sugar is not well controlled. This is because high blood sugar in type one diabetics results in the presence of ketones in the blood. The presence of ketones in maternal blood is detrimental to the fetus. Also, low blood sugar, can deprive the fetus of the source of fuel needed for the rapid growth that is going on.In type 2 diabetes, the risk to the baby is later in pregnancy. Here the baby converts much of the excess sugar to fat, resulting in very big babies. This poses a danger to the baby and mother during birth and can result in the use of C-section to deliver the baby. Diabetes can also result in the uterus not supplying adequate nutrients to the baby. This uterine insufficiency can place the baby at risk, including causing still birth.

Other Complications of Diabetes

Other diabetes complications are Diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic nonketotic syndrome, or HHNS; also called hyperosmolar non-ketotic coma or HNC. Infections, pneumonia, flu, yeast infections, urinary tract infections and other complications. Diabetes can sometimes result in depression. Frozen shoulder where the shoulder is very stiff and difficult to move can also result from diabetes.

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Andrew Curry, "Treatments for Diabetic Wounds“, 2016, retrieved from

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