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.
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.
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.
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.
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.