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Diabetes Complications

If it is not controlled, diabetes can cause a host of complications that can affect nearly every organ in the body. Diabetes complications include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Eye damage
  • Digestion problems
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Skin problems
  • Infection
  • Dental problems

Heart Disease

Heart disease is one of the most common diabetes complications. In office visits, your doctor may perform various tests to check for heart disease and help you prevent any serious heart-related problems. At every visit, your health care provider will check your blood pressure. Your cholesterol level and triglycerides may be checked at your first visit. A baseline EKG should also be obtained as part of a complete medical record. Learn more about personal risk factors you have for heart disease, such as a family history or whether you smoke, and work out a prevention plan that includes weight loss, regular exercise, and stress management, as well as keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides at normal levels.

Stroke

Signs and symptoms of stroke include sudden weakness on one side of the face or body; numbness in the face, arm, or leg; difficulty speaking; trouble seeing with both eyes; or dizziness. If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately. You may be referred to a neurologist or other stroke specialist. Read more about the warning signs of stroke and also be aware of ways to prevent this serious problem from happening to you.

Diabetic Nephropathy (Kidney Disease)

If you have diabetes, urine testing should be performed yearly to look for diabetic nephropathy -- kidney disease. A baseline creatinine blood test should also be done to determine your kidney function. Your health care provider will also check your blood pressure regularly, because control of high blood pressure is essential in slowing kidney disease. Blood pressure should be less than 130/80. Read about other symptoms of kidney disease in this health topic, such as persistent leg or feet swelling. Find out when to call your doctor to prevent serious problems.

Diabetic Neuropathy (Nerve Damage)

Over time, diabetes can cause nerve damage that produces symptoms of numbness, burning, or pain. If your skin becomes numb, you may not notice small wounds that could grow to become bigger health threats. Check your feet and hands daily for redness, calluses, cracks, or skin breakdown. If you notice any of these symptoms before your next scheduled visit, notify your health care provider immediately.

Diabetic Retinopathy

To protect your vision, all people with diabetes should see an ophthalmologist (an eye doctor) at least yearly. As part of the eye exam the doctor will dilate your eyes so that he or she can see the back of the eye (retina) and determine if the diabetes is causing damage. In people with type 1 diabetes, these annual exams should start within three to five years of diabetes once the patient is age 10 or older. People with type 2 diabetes should have their first eye exam once they are diagnosed. Those with eye complications may need to see their ophthalmologist more frequently. Women with diabetes who become pregnant should have a comprehensive eye exam during the first trimester and close follow-up with an eye doctor during their pregnancy. (This recommendation does not apply to women who develop gestational diabetes.)

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