If diabetes is not treated or not properly managed, it can lead to complications. These complications include:
- Heart disease and stroke: Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in Canada. Older adults with diabetes are twice as likely to develop high blood pressure (which can increase the risk of heart disease) as people without diabetes. Unfortunately, up to 80% of people with diabetes will die because of a heart attack or stroke.
- Eye disease: Over time, diabetes causes changes to tiny blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye (the part of the eye that senses light and images, and then sends a message to the brain). These blood vessels can leak and weaken, causing vision problems. Diabetes is the biggest cause of blindness in adults.
- Kidney disease: Diabetes is also the biggest cause of kidney failure in adults. Over time, high blood sugar levels damage the tiny blood vessels in the kidney, causing it to work less effectively and to leak protein into the urine, a condition called diabetic nephropathy.
- Nerve damage: People with diabetes are also 25 times as likely to undergo foot and other lower extremity amputations due to circulatory problems. This occurs because high blood sugar levels damage sensory nerves, especially of the hands and feet, so people are less likely to notice an injury. Even small foot injuries can become infected, leading to serious complications.
- Problems with impotence: Because of the damage done to the walls of blood vessels, circulation and blood flow to the penis are affected. Between one-third and one-half of men who have diabetes will experience impotence at some point.
Fortunately, properly-managed diabetes can prevent or delay the onset of these complications.