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Chronic Complications of Diabetes

written by: Bobby Mathew • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 12/12/2010

Hypertension, hearing loss, cognitive issues and kidney or nerve damage are but a few of the chronic complications of diabetes. Find out what the other chronic complication of diabetes are possible and why they occur.

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    Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by an insufficient supply of insulin in the body or the body's inability to properly utilize insulin. In either case, most of the disease's side effects and complications are the result of poorly controlled blood sugar levels. Although there is no cure for diabetes, tight glycemic control can help prevent or reduce the effects of any complications from the disease.

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    The Chronic Complications of Diabetes.

    Chronic complications of diabetes include:

    • Hypertension: This is commonly found in people with type 2 diabetes. As blood sugars rise, the body holds in more fluids as a means to lower blood sugar levels. This extra fluid that builds up within the blood vessels causes pressure against vessel walls, resulting in a weakening of the circulatory system. Sometimes blood vessels burst as a result, while other times there is obstructed blood flow to the peripheral parts of the body. Atherosclerotic plaques are often found in the arteries of type 2 diabetics as well. What happens as a result of all this are aneurysms, strokes and heart attacks.
    • Eye Disease: Diabetes is the leading cause of acquired blindness in people under the age of 65. It is also one of the leading causes of acquired blindness among older adults. Eye disease, or diabetic retinopathy, is one of the chronic complications of diabetes that result from the damage to the blood vessels and nerves in the back of the eye. Abnormal growth of new capillaries in the eye also cause irreversible changes in vision.
    • Kidney Disease: Diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels of the kidneys over time, preventing the kidney from functioning properly. Diabetes is the main cause of kidney dialysis in the United States.
    • Nerve Damage: Excess sugar in the blood for prolonged periods causes neuropathy, one of the chronic complications of diabetes. Neuropathy is a condition where excess amounts of blood sugar damage the peripheral nervous system. The result can be an inability to walk or control the bladder. Males sometimes experience impotence as a result of neuropathy.
    • Foot and Joint Problems: When a person has poor blood flow in their limbs coupled with nerve damage, the result is damage to the feet and joints from the lack of ability to feel pain. When left untreated, amputation may be required.
    • Skin Infections: Fungal and bacterial infections are common in people with diabetes as well as skin spotting and rashes. Again, this is the result of chronically uncontrolled blood sugar levels in person with diabetes. Diabetics are more at risk for nearly any type of infection because of their lowered immune system and sugar-rich blood.
    • Cognitive Issues: The brain is one of the organs of the body that is deeply impacted by diabetes. Children that are type 1 diabetics were found to have more difficulty performing certain mathematical tasks; in addition, their verbal fluency was found to be decreased. Dementia and memory problems are seen in elderly people with uncontrolled diabetes. Also, people are believed to be more susceptible to Alzheimer's disease if their diabetes is not under control.
    • Hearing Loss: Hearing is dependent on tiny blood vessels that run through the ear. Many researchers believe that chonically high blood sugar levels, over time, damages these blood vessels and cause hearing loss.
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    There is hope

    While many of the chronic complications of diabetes seem severe, they don't have to be a reality for you just because you are diabetic. Nearly all of the conditions mentioned here are the result of people who do not take measures to regulate their blood sugar. Chronically high blood sugar levels are what causes the chronic complications of diabetes. By incorporating exercise and a healthy diet into your lifestyle you may live a life where the risk of complications are minimized.