Type 2 diabetes can be easy to ignore, especially in the early stages when you're feeling fine. But diabetes affects many major organs, including your heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Controlling your blood sugar levels can help prevent these complications.

Although long-term complications of diabetes develop gradually, they can eventually be disabling or even life-threatening. Some of the potential complications of diabetes include:

  • Heart and blood vessel disease. Diabetes dramatically increases the risk of various cardiovascular problems, including coronary artery disease with chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke, narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis) and high blood pressure.
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy). Excess sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish your nerves, especially in the legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward. Poorly controlled blood sugar can eventually cause you to lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs. Damage to the nerves that control digestion can cause problems with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. For men, erectile dysfunction may be an issue.
  • Kidney damage (nephropathy). The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters that filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can damage this delicate filtering system. Severe damage can lead to kidney failure or irreversible end-stage kidney disease, which often eventually requires dialysis or a kidney transplant.
  • Eye damage. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina (diabetic retinopathy), potentially leading to blindness. Diabetes also increases the risk of other serious vision conditions, such as cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Foot damage. Nerve damage in the feet or poor blood flow to the feet increases the risk of various foot complications. Left untreated, cuts and blisters can become serious infections, which may heal poorly. Severe damage might require toe, foot or leg amputation.
  • Hearing impairment. Hearing problems are more common in people with diabetes.
  • Skin conditions. Diabetes may leave you more susceptible to skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Alzheimer's disease. Type 2 diabetes may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease. The poorer your blood sugar control, the greater the risk appears to be. The exact connection between these two conditions still remains unclear.
Jul. 24, 2014

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