Complications and Other Risks

When diabetes isn't well-managed, there can be serious health repercussions. Over time, chronically high blood glucose levels have the potential to cause damage to virtually every organ system of the body. Particularly when there is high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which bring and even greater risk of developing complications.

Diabetes can also lead to sexual dysfunction and disorder of sexual organs in both men and women. And in matters of mental health, studies have shown that those with diabetes have double the chance of suffering from depression, which can lead to the development of complications. It can be a vicious cycle.

Getting Control

The goal of diabetes management is achieving good control over blood glucose levels with healthy lifestyle changes, and medication and/or insulin when necessary. This is the best way to prevent or slow diabetes-related complications.

There's proof. The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT), a landmark ten-year study of the impact of good blood sugar control on complications associated with type 1 diabetes, found that for every 1 percentage point a patient reduces their A1C (i.e., three-month blood glucose average), they lower their risk of microvascular complications 37%. The study also found that keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible slowed the progression of diabetes-related eye, kidney, and nerve diseases.

And a ten-year study of over 5,000 patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes – The United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) – found that the diabetes-related complications of retinopathy, nephropathy, and neuropathy were reduced significantly in study subjects with type 2 diabetes who practiced intensive blood glucose control (i.e., a median A1C of 7%).

In addition, for every percentage point reduction in A1C, study participants achieved a 35% reduction in the risk of complications. The UKPDS also found that aggressive control of high blood pressure significantly reduced cardiovascular complications and diabetic retinopathy in people with type 2 diabetes.

Your Role as Caregiver

As a caregiver, helping your loved one to avoid debilitating and costly complications starts by encouraging or even helping them to manage their diabetes effectively. A proper diet, exercise, and regular medical visits are your best defense against this disease.

Complications are a scary subject. Never treat a complication as "punishment" for poor diabetes care. They can happen even to those who try their hardest to attain good diabetes control. Even if a complication is truly the result of poor diabetes care, reminding your loved one of that fact does nothing to help the situation or your relationship.

If your loved one has already developed some complications related to their diabetes, work with them to prevent further damage by managing blood sugars to the best of their ability and treating the complication appropriately. To find out more about diabetes-related complications and how to support the person in your life with diabetes, learn more about how diabetes impacts the different organ systems of the body:

Last Modified Date: May 29, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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by Nicole Purcell
I have a friend, M, who has diabetes and never, ever tests her bloodsugar before she gets behind the wheel. This has always worried me about her. On Wednesday, she had a bad accident after passing out behind the wheel. She hit another car head on. I thank the universe that no one was killed, but she and the driver of the other vehicle were both badly injured. She's got a long healing road ahead of her, as does the woman she hit. I was talking about the...