What Other Health Problems can be Caused by Diabetes?

There are complications from diabetes that may develop over time. The longer you have diabetes and the less controlled your blood sugar, the higher the risk of other health problems. Eventually, other health problems caused by diabetes may be disabling or even life-threatening.

These problems include:

  • Cardiovascular disease: Diabetes dramatically increases your risk of developing various cardiovascular problems, including coronary artery disease (CAD) with chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke and narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis).
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy): Too much sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels that feed your nerves, especially in the legs. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward. If this is left untreated, all feeling could be lost in the affected limbs. Damage to the nerves related to digestion can cause problems such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. For men, it may lead to erectile dysfunction.
  • Kidney damage (nephropathy): The kidneys contain millions of tiny blood vessel clusters (which are called glomeruli) that filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can damage this delicate filtering system; severe damage can lead to kidney failure or end-stage kidney disease, which may require dialysis or a kidney transplant. Serious kidney disease has dropped significantly in recent years, likely due to improvements in diabetes management.
  • Eye damage (retinopathy): Diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the inner eye), a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. This condition may lead 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 problems. Left untreated, cuts and blisters can develop into serious infections. Severe damage might require toe, foot or even leg amputation.
  • Skin and mouth conditions: Diabetes may make you more likely to have skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections. Gum infections may also be a concern, especially if you have a history of poor dental care.
  • Osteoporosis: Diabetes may lead to lower than normal bone mineral density (bone mass), increasing your risk of osteoporosis, a disease that can lead to bone fractures.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: Type 2 diabetes may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The less your blood sugar is controlled, the greater the risk appears to be. Heart and blood problems caused by diabetes may contribute to dementia by blocking blood flow to the brain or causing strokes. Too much insulin in the blood may lead to brain-damaging inflammation, or the brain cells may not get enough glucose due to blocked blood flow.
  • Cancer: People with diabetes have a higher risk of some cancers. But the reasons aren’t clear; it may be that the factors that increase the risk of type 2 diabetes also increase the risk of cancer or it may be a factor of the disease or its treatment. There is much research in this area, but in the meantime, no changes in treatment are recommended.

Health Problems Caused by Gestational Diabetes

Most women who have gestational diabetes deliver healthy babies. However, if it is untreated or uncontrolled, blood sugar levels can cause problems for you and your baby.

The following health problems can affect your baby:

  • Excess growth: Extra glucose can go to the placenta, which causes your baby’s pancreas to make extra insulin. This can cause your baby to grow too large (a condition called macrosomia). Very large babies are more likely to require a C-section delivery.
  • Low blood sugar: Sometimes babies of mothers with gestational diabetes develop low blood sugar (a condition called hypoglycemia) shortly after birth because their own insulin production is so high. Timely feedings, and sometimes an intravenous (IV) glucose solution, can return the baby’s blood sugar level to normal.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome: If your baby is delivered early, respiratory distress syndrome, a condition that makes it hard to breathe, is possible. Babies who have this syndrome may need help breathing until their lungs become stronger.
  • Jaundice: This yellowish coloring of the skin and the whites of the eyes may occur if a baby’s liver isn’t mature enough to break down a substance called bilirubin, which normally forms when the body recycles old or damaged red blood cells. Although jaundice usually isn’t a cause for concern, careful monitoring is important.
  • Type 2 diabetes later in life: Babies of mothers who have gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Death: Untreated gestational diabetes can result in a baby’s death either before or shortly after birth.

    The following health problems can affect you:

    • Preeclampsia: Women with this condition have high blood pressure, extra protein in the urine and swelling in the legs and feet. Preeclampsia can lead to serious or even life-threatening complications for both mother and baby.
    • Gestational diabetes in later pregnancies: Once you’ve had gestational diabetes in one pregnancy, you’re more likely to have it again with the next pregnancy. You’re also more likely to develop diabetes, typically type 2 diabetes, as you get older.

Health Problems Caused by Prediabetes

Type 2 Diabetes: Prediabetes may develop into type 2 diabetes.