What are the late complications of diabetes?

Late complications may occur many years after diagnosis of diabetes. They are most worrying because they may result from damage to vital organs of the body such as eyes, kidneys, heart, blood circulation or the nervous system. On the other hand, these complications are often treatable and early detection may help to prevent their harmful effect.

How can complications develop?

They may develop in a number of ways:

1.     By weakening and blockage of small blood vessels that supply blood to the organs of the body. This is called ‘microvascular disease’ and can lead to impaired vision if they affect the eyes or reduce kidney function if they affect the kidneys.

2.     By thickening the wall of large arteries that supply blood to large organs such as the heart or the feet. This is called ‘macrovascular disease’.

3.     By changes within the cells of the body. This can lead to the ways that the body’s nervous system functions. This is called ‘neuropathy’. A similar process within the lens of the eye can cause clouding of the lens called a cataract.

Why do complications develop?

We do not always understand why complications develop. There is no doubt that constant high levels of glucose in the blood over a period of time leading to poor diabetic control, is a major factor in increasing the risk of complications.

Some people seem more at risk than others through no fault of their own. Perhaps this is because there is an inherited risk for some people to develop the complications of diabetes.

Other factors that can increase the risk of complications include physical inactivity, smoking, becoming overweight, high blood pressure and inappropriate diet.

What is the risk of myself or my child developing complications?

We cannot answer this question. We can only estimate risk on the basis of statistics from groups of people who have had diabetes a long time. New treatment that is now available will have diminished that risk so that the statistics may not apply to people developing diabetes now. A prediction based on a statistical risk also cannot reliably apply to an individual person in predicting their future.


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