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6 Complications of Poorly Managed Diabetes

Medically reviewed by Marina Basina, MD on January 26, 2018Written by Shane Murphy on January 26, 2018
complications of diabetes

With proper self-care, living with diabetes can be manageable. If poorly managed, however, the condition poses a number of risks that can seriously impact your long-term health and well-being.

Read on to learn about some of the most significant complications that can result from not properly managing diabetes.

1. Heart disease

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. Because people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to be affected by heart disease, there are a number of risk factors that people with diabetes need to be mindful of. These include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inactivity, and smoking.

If left unchecked, these risk factors can greatly increase your chance of contracting heart disease. The best way to reduce your risk is to set personal health goals, like regular exercise and a healthy diet. Also, be sure to talk to your doctor about whether medication is a viable option for you.

2. Stroke

Poorly managed diabetes can also lead to an increased risk of stroke. In fact, people with diabetes are 1.5 times more likely to have a stroke than people who don’t have the condition. As someone living with diabetes, you should familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a stroke. These include:

  • numbness on one side of your body
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • headaches
  • difficulty speaking
  • vision problems

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. The sooner a stroke is detected and treated, the less damage it will do to your brain.

Keeping your blood sugar in check with exercise and a well-balanced diet, and adhering to your treatment plan can help lower your risk of getting a stroke.

3. Kidney disease

Kidney disease is another complication that can result from not managing your diabetes properly. If your blood glucose levels are too high, your kidneys may struggle to filter your blood, causing your body to lose important proteins.

Symptoms of kidney disease include fluid buildup, weakness, nausea, loss of sleep, and trouble concentrating. However, because these symptoms typically don’t show up until kidney function is almost gone, kidney disease is often difficult to detect.

If you have diabetes, it’s important that you see your doctor regularly to get tested for kidney-related problems on a regular basis.

4. High blood pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is one of the most common health complications in people with diabetes, affecting between 20 to 60 percent. If left untreated, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, vision problems, and kidney disease.

If you’re living with diabetes, you're likely always aware of your blood pressure since it’s checked during every healthcare visit. The best way to lower your blood pressure is with healthy dietary and lifestyle choices. Try your best to reduce your sodium intake, eat whole grains, and avoid tobacco and alcohol.

5. Eye damage

People with diabetes have a higher chance of developing eye problems like glaucoma and cataracts. Poorly managed diabetes can also lead to retinopathy, a condition where high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in your retina. If left untreated, retinopathy in its most severe form can cause complete loss of vision.

New treatment options for retinopathy can prevent blindness in most cases, but it’s vital that you monitor your blood sugar and blood pressure levels regularly to lower your risk.

6. Foot problems

Poorly managed diabetes can also cause a number of foot complications, ranging from dry skin and ulcers to amputation in some cases.

Most diabetes-related foot issues are caused by nerve damage, sometimes referred to as neuropathy. Neuropathy can create a number of unpleasant sensations in the foot (tingling, burning, stinging), and may change the shape of your feet and toes, requiring special shoes or insoles. Neuropathy can also decrease your ability to feel sensations like pain, heat, and cold, putting you at a higher risk of injuries that lead to infection.

The best ways to reduce your risk of foot problems are to exercise regularly and to wear comfortable shoes. If you’re a smoker, quit as soon as possible.

The takeaway

By making healthy lifestyle choices and keeping an eye on your blood pressure, you can lower your risk of experiencing these complications. However, be proactive: If you believe you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described above, contact your healthcare team immediately. Ignoring warning signs that something is wrong can seriously affect your ability to recover.

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