Type 2 Diabetes Complications

Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that can affect virtually every part of the body if it’s not managed properly. Part of controlling the condition involves knowing what the possible complications are—that way, you can work to prevent them.

Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the body is unable to properly break down glucose—either because your body stops producing enough insulin, the hormone that helps regulate the movement of glucose into your cells, or because it becomes resistant to insulin’s effects. As a result, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream and fails to feed your body’s cells adequately.

While there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, controlling blood sugar levels through a healthful diet, regular exercise, and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can minimize the many and varied complications of the disease.

Whether you have prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy), understanding the complications of this disease can help you take steps toward preventing, managing and monitoring them.

  • Cardiovascular disease: People with diabetes may develop heart disease that is more severe and occurs at a younger age than those without diabetes. Uncontrolled blood sugar damages the large blood vessels of the body, making them vulnerable to further injury. Atherosclerosis (the narrowing of blood vessels), coronary artery disease, angina (chest pain,) high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke are among the cardiovascular complications associated with type 2 diabetes. And because the disease also damages nerves, altering how you experience pain, you may not feel the painful warning signs of a heart attack (called a “silent heart attack”).
  • Nerve damage: Excess sugar in the bloodstream can harm the capillaries that feed the nerve cells. This condition, called diabetic neuropathy, often begins in the fingers, lower legs and feet, and gradually moves inward and upward. Symptoms may include numbness, tingling, burning or pain. Nerve damage can also lead to digestive problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, nausea and vomiting, as well as erectile dysfunction in men.
  • Foot damage: Insufficient blood flow and nerve damage can cause particular complications in the feet. Even small wounds, such as blisters and tiny cuts, may not heal promptly or properly, potentially leading to serious infections and in some cases toe, foot or partial leg amputations.
  • Skin conditions: In addition to poor wound healing, skin conditions such as bacterial or fungal infections may result from poorly controlled type 2 diabetes.
  • Eye damage: Uncontrolled diabetes can injure the tiny blood vessels in the eyes. Diabetic retinopathy develops when the blood vessels of the retina are damaged; if left untreated, this condition can lead to blindness. In addition, cataracts and glaucoma are more common among people with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes.
  • Kidney damage: The network of blood vessels in the kidneys acts as a filter to eliminate waste from the blood. When uncontrolled blood sugar damages these tiny blood vessels, the kidneys can’t do their job, resulting in a condition called diabetic nephropathy. The result: Sufferers may experience kidney failure or end-stage kidney disease, for which dialysis or transplantation may be required.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: Type 2 diabetes may increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Exactly how the two conditions are linked is not completely clear but it may be related to poor regulation of insulin and glucose levels in the brain. In fact, the presence of high blood sugar and insulin resistance in Alzheimer’s disease has some clinicians calling it type 3 diabetes.

To learn the basics about type 2 diabetes, click here and check out this list of 10 tips for managing diabetes.