What are the Long-Term Effects of Diabetes?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus
Methylcobalamin tablets, which are used to treat diabetic neuropathy.
Methylcobalamin tablets, which are used to treat diabetic neuropathy.

The long-term effects of diabetes often include damage to one or more of the following: eyes, nerves, feet, kidneys and heart. The damage to these parts of the body due to diabetes is often referred to as complications. These long-term complications are usually a result of having diabetes for decades. Not all diabetics experience complications, especially the same kind or to a similar degree, as genetics and how long the blood sugar remains high are factors in what the long-term effects of the disease are likely to be.

People with diabetes must be aware of their blood sugar levels in order to minimize complications.
People with diabetes must be aware of their blood sugar levels in order to minimize complications.

Eye diseases, especially in those who have had diabetes for 20 years or more, are common long-term complications. These eye diseases include diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts. The long-term effects of diabetes on the eyes can be extremely serious because, if left untreated, blindness may result. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness and the most common eye disease in people with diabetes; it causes spotty and/or glaring vision and must be treated with laser surgery to avoid complete vision loss. Diabetics should get regular eye examinations to detect any signs of retinopathy or other conditions for the earliest and best treatment options.

Small wounds may cause dangerous infections for individuals with diabetes.
Small wounds may cause dangerous infections for individuals with diabetes.

Nerve damage, or neuropathy, is a common long-term diabetes complication. It typically doesn't occur until after many years of having diabetes. The feet are especially susceptible to nerve damage from the long-term effects of diabetes, but the legs, arms and hands may also be affected.

Typically, diabetic neuropathy begins with tingling, "pins and needles" type sensations that occur frequently in the hands and feet. Shooting pain in the toes or other part of the foot may also occur. Diabetics with foot neuropathy must be extremely careful not to injure their feet; if they have numbness, they may not notice small wounds before they become infected. In some cases due to infected foot wounds and extensive nerve damage to the feet and legs, amputation may be necessary.

Diabetes can lead to kidney failure necessitating dialysis.
Diabetes can lead to kidney failure necessitating dialysis.

The kidneys often become damaged over time in people with diabetes. Nephropathy, or kidney damage, often progresses through the different stages of the disease in diabetics. In the final stage of kidney disease, the use of dialysis machines becomes necessary. When blood sugars remain high over long periods of time, this condition increases the risk of hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, which may cause a heart attack or stroke. The long-term effects of diabetes, in terms of neuropathy, may include interference with the the heart's functioning or abnormalities of the organ.

In cases of uncontrolled diabetes, the kidneys may become overtaxed due to large fluctuations in glucose levels.
In cases of uncontrolled diabetes, the kidneys may become overtaxed due to large fluctuations in glucose levels.

Controlling blood sugar levels through proper diet, regular exercise and medication as well as insulin in some cases is usually necessary for diabetics to avoid long-term complications of the disease. Even then, up to 80% of diabetics are likely to experience some long-term effects of diabetes. Frequent blood sugar testing as well as regular checkups with a family doctor and an endocrinologist, or diabetes specialist, as well as an optometrist are necessary for a diabetic to properly monitor his or her health.

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Discussion Comments

Drentel

My friend who has diabetes symptoms associated with his type 2 diabetes says the sensations he gets in his legs and feet are the worst part of the disease. Sometimes when he is in the bathroom brushing his teeth he says he will press his leg against the counter and he can feel a shooting feeling going down his leg. He says it feels like a small jolt of electricity.

What he says is even worse, is the pain he feels in his feet when he lies down. He used to lie on the couch sometimes when he watched TV, but now he only lies down when he goes to bed because the foot pain is worse when he lies down. Sometimes he sleeps in the chair in his bedroom.

mobilian33

My mother had a friend who had diabetes. Her name was Lucy. She and Mama did almost everything together. They both really enjoyed working in the yard and working in their gardens. Mama would go over to Lucy's house sometimes and help her in her yard and gardens. Then sometimes Lucy would come over to our house and help Mama in the yard and in the garden.

One day when I was still a little girl, Lucy and Mama were in the yard planting flowers and I was walking around basically annoying them and getting in the way. At one point, I started to feel something biting my foot. I looked down and there were ants all over my feet and they were biting me.

Mama got the ants off, and she asked where I had gotten them from. I had just been standing in the flower bed beside Lucy, so that's where I pointed as I tried to stop crying from the pain of the bites. Mama walked over to the flower bed, and sure enough there were the ants, and Lucy was standing right in the middle of them. Both of her feet and her legs had ants all over them.

When she finally noticed, she started jumping and knocking the ants off. Her legs were covered in bites, but she never felt the ants because the nerves in her lower body had been damaged by her diabetes. She had practically no feeling below her knees. Lucy eventually died from type 2 diabetes complications. Her liver gave out.

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    • Methylcobalamin tablets, which are used to treat diabetic neuropathy.
      Methylcobalamin tablets, which are used to treat diabetic neuropathy.
    • People with diabetes must be aware of their blood sugar levels in order to minimize complications.
      People with diabetes must be aware of their blood sugar levels in order to minimize complications.
    • Small wounds may cause dangerous infections for individuals with diabetes.
      Small wounds may cause dangerous infections for individuals with diabetes.
    • Diabetes can lead to kidney failure necessitating dialysis.
      Diabetes can lead to kidney failure necessitating dialysis.
    • In cases of uncontrolled diabetes, the kidneys may become overtaxed due to large fluctuations in glucose levels.
      In cases of uncontrolled diabetes, the kidneys may become overtaxed due to large fluctuations in glucose levels.
    • Some diabetics suffer from glaucoma and other eye diseases that cause vision loss.
      Some diabetics suffer from glaucoma and other eye diseases that cause vision loss.
    • Keeping a steady blood glucose level can help diabetics avoid many of the long-term effects of the disease.
      Keeping a steady blood glucose level can help diabetics avoid many of the long-term effects of the disease.
    • Diabetics who do not control their blood sugar levels may develop circulation problems in their limbs.
      Diabetics who do not control their blood sugar levels may develop circulation problems in their limbs.
    • Extensive nerve damage to the feet and legs may lead to amputation.
      Extensive nerve damage to the feet and legs may lead to amputation.