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Diabetes Complications

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a number of short and long-term health complications, including hypoglycaemia, heart disease, nerve damage and amputation, and vision problems.

The majority of these diabetes-related conditions occur as a result of uncontrolled blood glucose levels, particularly elevated blood sugar over a prolonged period of time.

It is essential that diabetics are aware of the complications that can occur as a result of diabetes to ensure that the first symptoms of any possible illness are spotted before they develop.

In this section, you'll find information on all of the diseases, illnesses and disorders that are linked to diabetes, including the different causes, symptoms and treatments for each condition.

How common are complications of diabetes?

It is common for most people with diabetes to begin to develop complications after having diabetes for a number of years.

With good diabetes control and living a healthy, active lifestyle, it is possible for people to go a number of decades complication free.

However, if you have had less well controlled diabetes, have led a less healthy lifestyle, or had undiagnosed diabetes for a number of years, the complications of diabetes are more likely to develop earlier.


Why do complications occur?

Scientists still do not fully understand how complications develop.  What is known, however, is that high blood glucose levels cause damage to the blood vessels and nerves which supply our organs and therefore result in impaired functioning of any affected organs.

How do I prevent complications?

The risk of developing complications can be reduced by following a number of healthy lifestyle steps:

  • Achieving good control of your blood glucose levels and HbA1c

  • Losing weight - if you are currently overweight or obese

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet

  • Taking regular physical activity - at least a total of 2 and a half hours each week

  • Having a low alcohol intake

  • Quitting smoking


Reducing your HbA1c

Large scale research studies have shown that the chances of developing the most common complications rises significantly in proportion to each 1% increase in HbA1c levels.

The most widely reported long-term diabetes complications include:

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetic retinopathy

  • Nephropathy

  • Neuropathy


HbA1c, or haemoglobin A1c, is a molecule in the blood that can be measured to give clinicians an overall picture of a patient's average blood sugar levels over the previous 8-12 weeks.

This long-term measure of blood glucose is important for people with diabetes as the higher their HbA1c value, the greater the risk of developing serious diabetic complications.

By reducing HbA1c and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels well controlled, people with diabetes can reduce their risk of diabetic complications.


Treating complications

Whilst different treatments will be available for different complications, many of the most common diabetes-related condition can be better controlled, and their development limited, by following the healthy lifestyle steps for preventing complications.

If you have been diagnosed with one of the complications of diabetes, it can be possible to live unhindered by the condition at first. It is very important though to do whatever you can to follow to prevent the complications becoming more damaging.

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