Complications of Diabetes Mellitus:

Complications of Diabetes Mellitus

Read Diabetes Mellitus introduction, Types, and symptoms .

Complications of Diabetes Mellitus

1. Heart diseases:

Blood vessels and the nerves that control the heart can be damaged due to high blood sugar levels. Moreover, atherosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels) leads to heart attack and stroke. Other conditions may also develop in diabetic patients that further increase the risk of heart disease in them. These conditions are:

  1. High blood pressure can damage artery walls. The risk of heart disease Increases by having both high blood pressure and diabetes.
  2. Plaque can be formed on damaged artery walls due to high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in the bloodstream.
  3. High triglycerides, low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and high LDL cholesterol cause the hardening of the arteries.

The risk for heart disease is also increased by the following factors:

  1. Smoking
  2. Too much alcohol intake
  3. Obesity
  4. Eating a diet consists of a high amount of salt, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol
  5. Not having enough physical activity

2. Kidney disease:

Each kidney is made up of millions of tiny filters called nephrons which are the basic structural and functional unit of the kidney. Blood vessels in the kidneys and nephrons are damaged because of high blood sugar. Due to this reason, they cannot work efficiently. Diabetic patients may also develop high blood pressure which can damage kidneys too and result in chronic kidney disease.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) often takes a long time to develop and usually has few or no symptoms in the early stages. CKD is common in diabetic patients. Approximately 1 in every 3 patients has CKD.

3. Nerve damage(neuropathy):

High blood sugar levels over a long period of time can lead to nerve damage. These damaged nerves stop sending messages to different parts of the body.

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Types of Nerve Damage:

1.  Peripheral nerve damage:

In this type of nerve damage, the patient feels “pins and needles” or tingling in the feet. Hands, feet, legs, and arms are affected by peripheral nerve damage. The tingling sensation generally starts in the feet. Other symptoms of peripheral nerve damage are pain and increased sensitivity (especially at night), numbness and weakness, and serious foot problems.

2.   Autonomic Nerve Damage:

Heart, stomach, bladder, intestines, sex organs, or eyes are affected by this type of nerve damage. Its symptoms are bladder and bowel problems which may cause urine leakage, constipation, or diarrhea; nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and changes in vision.

3.   Proximal Nerve Damage:

Thighs, hips, buttocks, or legs are affected by this type of nerve damage. The stomach and chest area can also be affected. Its symptoms are pain in the hip and thigh or buttock, severe pain in the stomach, and trouble getting up from a sitting position.

4.  Focal Nerve Damage:

Single nerve, most often in the hand, head, torso, or leg is affected by this type of nerve damage. Its symptoms are trouble in having a focused vision or having double vision, numbness or tingling in hands or fingers, weakness in the hand due to which things may drop from the hand, and not being able to move one side of the face.

5.  Foot problems:

Nerve damage affects the sensation of the feet due to which pain is not felt. The patient may not notice irritation and other forms of injury and these untreated conditions may get worse. In diabetic patients, there is poor circulation in the feet which causes ulcers to form when the skin is damaged and also causes the ulcers to heal slowly.

The ability of the body to fight infections is also affected by diabetes. Thus, once a foot ulcer forms, it becomes worsens. Due to nerve damage, the infection may not cause discomfort until it becomes serious and difficult to treat, leading to gangrene.

6. Oral problems:

It is very important for diabetic patients to take care of their oral health. White blood cells become weakened due to high blood sugar. These white blood cells fight infections that can occur in the mouth.

High blood sugar level causes high sugar in saliva too. This sugar is used as food by bacteria in the plaque. Tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease are caused by some of these bacteria. If it is not treated, tooth loss can occur. In diabetic patients, gum disease can be more severe and take longer to heal.

Diabetic patients may suffer from the following:

  1. They may have less saliva, causing them to feel the dryness of the mouth.
  2. Their gums may become inflamed and bleed often
  3. Their mouth Infections can take longer to heal

7. Hearing problem:

High blood sugar levels damage small blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. Low blood sugar is responsible to damage the process of traveling nerve signals from the inner ear to the brain. Both of these types of nerve damage can result in hearing loss. At the start, it is difficult to notice hearing loss because it develops slowly.

8. Eye damage:

Diabetes can damage the eyes and cause vision loss and blindness. It can be prevented by managing blood sugar levels and having regular eye checkups.

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Diabetic Retinopathy:

It results from the damage caused by high blood sugar to the blood vessels in the retina (a light-sensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye). These damaged blood vessels swell up which causes blurred vision. In some cases, new blood vessels grow but they are not normal hence they can cause further vision problems.

Stages of Diabetic Retinopathy:

There are two main stages of diabetic retinopathy.

1. Early stage:

Walls of blood vessels in the retina become weakened and bulge, forming tiny pouches. Blood and other fluids leak from these pouches. Due to this a part of the retina called the macula swells up. This is called macular edema and this result in distortion of vision. It is the most common cause of blindness in diabetic retinopathy patients.

2. Advanced-stage:

New blood vessels begin to grow in the retina. These vessels are fragile and leak into the vitreous which is the clear gel between the lens and retina. With minor bleeding, there are a few dark spots that float in the vision. In case of heavy bleeding, the vision may be completely blocked. Common symptoms of the advanced stage are dark spots in the vision (floaters), trouble seeing colors, blurred vision, and vision loss.

Read more about Diabetes Mellitus introduction, Types, and symptoms.


  1. Center of Disease Control and Prevention
  2. high blood pressure
  3. MSD Manual

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