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Type 1 Diabetes: Living With Complications - What Happens

If complications from type 1 diabetes are found early, treatment can slow and sometimes reverse the damage. Complications that progress may cause serious disability or death.

  • Diabetic retinopathy can lead to vision loss and blindness. You are also at risk for other eye conditions that can cause vision loss, such as cataracts or glaucoma. For more information, see the topic Diabetic Retinopathy.
  • Diabetic nephropathy can lead to kidney failure. For more information, see the topic Diabetic Nephropathy.
  • Large blood vessel damage (macrovascular disease) can lead to heart attack, stroke, or circulation problems in your legs. For more information, see the topics Heart Attack and Unstable Angina, Peripheral Arterial Disease of the Legs, or Stroke.
  • Diabetic neuropathy can lead to a variety of problems. Peripheral neuropathy (affecting sensation) along with blood vessel disease in the legs can cause foot problems, including Charcot foot and foot drop. If you develop a severe foot infection, it can lead to amputation. Autonomic neuropathy (affecting internal functioning) can cause many problems, such as gastroparesis, hypoglycemia unawareness, and impotence. For more information, see the topic Diabetic Neuropathy.

What can be done?

If your complication is found early, you may need to make only minor lifestyle changes to stop its progression. For example, if you have early diabetic nephropathy, medicine can help prevent further damage to your kidneys. Early treatment for a complication and keeping your blood sugar in a target range can help prevent new complications. The American Diabetes Association recommends a hemoglobin A1c level of less than 7% to help prevent complications. The A1c level is a measure of your blood sugar over the past 2 or 3 months. Talk to your doctor about what A1c level is best for you.

Other ways to prevent new complications and/or to keep the complications you have from getting worse include:

  • Seeing your doctor regularly to have your treatment evaluated and to have screening exams and tests.
  • Treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Stopping smoking.
  • Checking your feet for cuts or calluses, which can lead to infection. Good foot care also includes having a doctor check your feet regularly. Wear socks and shoes at all times to protect your feet.
  • Limiting alcohol to 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men.

More information


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 07, 2011
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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