Long-term Complications of Diabetes

I’ve just been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. What sort of health problems might I develop in the long term?

You are at increased risk of two main sets of complications: those affecting your heart and circulation (macrovascular problems) and those affecting your eyes, feet, kidneys, and nerves (microvascular problems). Although serious, these problems are not inevitable. You can do a lot to reduce the risk of developing them by leading a healthy lifestyle and working with your health professionals to make sure that you have routine medical checks when you need them.

How long after diagnosis do the complications of Type 2 diabetes usually occur?

Complications take at least 5-10 years to develop but this can be misleading because you can have signs of them when you are first diagnosed. This is because you may have been developing Type 2 diabetes for years before your diagnosis. Once you know you have diabetes, you can show the rate at which complications progress, or increase the time before they develop.

What heart problems might I experience?

Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. These two factors increase your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and heart attack.

Why is diabetes linked with kidney problems?

High blood glucose levels over a period of years can damage the delicate filtering system in your kidneys. If left untreated, this damage can eventually progress so that your kidneys no longer function efficiently. Urine tests will be done once or twice a year to look for any early signs of damage.

Is it true that diabetes can affect my eyesight?

When you are first diagnosed with diabetes, you may have blurred vision. This is linked to high blood glucose levels and is usually temporary. Once your blood glucose levels reduce, your eyesight will return to normal. In the longer term, one of the complications of diabetes is retinopathy – damage to the small blood vessels at the back of your eye. Retinopathy can be successfully treated if diagnosed at an early stage, but if it is left untreated, your eyesight will be affected. Having your eyes checked at least once a year will reveal whether you have retinopathy.

Why are people with diabetes prone to foot problems?

Over a long period of time, high blood glucose levels can cause poor circulation and nerve damage, resulting in reduced sensation in your feet. This makes you more prone to problems such as ulcers on your feet or legs, or damage to the bones of your feet.

How will having diabetes affect my sex life?

If you are a man, over time you may find it more difficult to get an erection because of damage to your nerves or circulation. There are a variety of treatments for erectile dysfunction.

What can I do to prevent myself from getting the long-term complications of diabetes?

Controlling your blood glucose level and blood pressure as well as possible reduces your risk of complications. Eating healthily, being physically active, losing weight if you need to, stopping smoking, and taking prescribed pills or insulin all help. Other important measures include an annual checkup and keeping your knowledge of diabetes up to date. To minimize foot problems, check your feet daily, and seek help if you notice any injuries or abnormalities.

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