Diabetes Complications


The unfortunate truth: having type 1 diabetes can significantly increase your risk for additional health problems. Potential complications can develop over time if blood glucose levels aren’t diligently managed. Some of the risks to the body are mildly irritating or debilitating while others are more serious and potentially life-threatening. The good news? Keeping your blood glucose levels in check may prevent these major complications:

Loss of eyesight

Retinopathy, an eye complication caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina, is, unfortunately, quite common among people who experience high blood sugar levels over an extended period of time. It can occur before you notice any changes in your vision. Usually, both eyes will be affected once retinopathy sets in.

Symptoms might include:

  •     blurred vision
  •     changing vision
  •     color-impaired vision
  •     empty or dark spots
  •     eye pain
  •     any vision loss at all

This condition can lead to serious vision problems such as retinal detachment, glaucoma, vitreous hemorrhage and total blindness. Luckily, retinopathy that erases eyesight entirely occurs far less frequently. Eyesight loss, even in its milder forms, is less likely to occur if you’re careful to keep your blood sugar levels close to the normal baseline.

Cardiovascular disease

If you have type 1 diabetes, you’re likely at higher risk for potentially having a heart attack, stroke, chest pain, or heart disease. The exact reason for this is unclear.

Pain and numbness in your limbs

Unmonitored blood glucose levels can cause nerve damage in the legs, feet and hands, which might lead to pain, numbness, increased sensitivity or weakness. Treating nerve damage or neuropathy, as it’s referred to, and protecting your body means keeping your blood glucose levels in the target zone.

Symptoms might include:

  • Numbness, loss of sensation, especially gradual; tingling, prickling of the feet or hands
  • Unusually painful response to things that shouldn’t be painful
  • Muscle weakness
  • Burning, particularly sharp pain, unusual cramping

Skin conditions

Bacterial infections, such as styes, boils, infections of hair follicles and deep infections of and underneath the skin and nails are common without proper control of blood sugar levels. Fungal infections (yeast infections) are another potential skin complication, resulting in rashes that run rampant in the warm, moist creases of skin, like under the breasts, between fingers and toes, in the armpits, the groin and under the foreskin in uncircumcised men. Localized itching can also be a symptom of diabetes, caused by a yeast infection, dry skin, or poor circulation, which causes the lower parts of the legs to be most irritated.

Kidney damage

Kidneys, the body’s filters, can become seriously damaged due to unmonitored blood glucose levels. Kidney disease, or nephropathy, is a serious condition that can be brought on by diabetes as well as high blood pressure. The most severe complications in the kidneys may lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which may require dialysis or a transplant.

Symptoms might include:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Upset stomach
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
  • Confusion
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles

Clearly, there are any number of major issues that can arise from not taking proper care of yourself with type 1 diabetes. They are cause for keeping your blood sugars in check and opting to adopt a healthy eating and exercise regimen if it suits you to do so.

Learn how to check for foot complications.

Read more about how to have Healthy Eyes.

WRITTEN BY BT1 Editorial Team, POSTED 04/08/16, UPDATED 04/13/23

This piece was authored collaboratively by the Beyond Type 1 Editorial Team.