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Complications From Diabetes

If blood sugar levels are often above a target range for a long period of time, a person is at risk for developing diabetes complications. Children with diabetes seem to be protected from having complications until they become adolescents; then their risk increases.

Whether complications develop also may be affected by:

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  • The effects of high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension).
  • Changes in the way the blood clots.

Keeping blood sugar at a target range lowers the risk of developing complications. Children with type 2 diabetes have the same goals recommended for adults.

People with diabetes are at risk for blood vessel and nerve damage. They can develop one or several complications.

Blood vessel damage

High blood sugar causes changes in hormones and cells that can damage blood vessels or nerves, or both. Damaged blood vessels are more likely to build up plaque, increasing the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke. When large blood vessels are affected, complications are called macrovascular disease. Damage to small blood vessels can lead to loss of vision, kidney disease, and nerve problems throughout the body. When small blood vessels are affected, the condition is called microvascular disease.

  • Blockages in the heart or brain increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. When the large blood vessels in the legs are affected (peripheral arterial disease), blood circulation to the legs and feet is reduced, causing changes in skin color, decreased sensation, poor wound healing, and leg cramps.
  • Diabetic retinopathy refers to complications affecting the eyes; diabetic nephropathy affects the kidneys.

Nerve damage

Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) can decrease or completely block the movement of nerve impulses or messages through organs, legs, arms, and other parts of the body. Nerve damage can affect your internal organs and your ability to feel pain when you are injured.

  • Diabetic autonomic neuropathy occurs when nerves that control involuntary functions-such as those of the heart, digestive tract, urinary tract, and sex organs-have been damaged.
  • Diabetic peripheral neuropathy occurs when the nerves that detect sensation (including pain and position) become damaged. Peripheral neuropathy usually affects longer nerves first, for example, the nerves going to the legs and feet.
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Stephen LaFranchi, MD - Pediatrics, Pediatric Endocrinology
Last Revised July 16, 2010

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 16, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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If the level is below 70 and you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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