Heart disease and stroke
If you have diabetes, you are up to five times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke. Prolonged, poorly controlled blood glucose levels increase the likelihood of developing atherosclerosis (furring and narrowing of your blood vessels) and this results in angina (a dull, heavy or tight pain in the chest). It also increases the chance that a blood vessel in your heart or brain will become completely blocked, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
High blood glucose levels can damage the tiny blood vessels of your nerves. This can cause a tingling or burning pain that spreads from your fingers and toes up through your limbs. If the nerves in your digestive system are affected, you may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation.
Retinopathy is where the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue) at the back of the eye is damaged. Blood vessels in the retina can become blocked or leaky, or can grow haphazardly. This prevents the light from fully passing through to your retina. If it is not treated, it can damage your vision. The better you control your blood sugar levels, the lower your risk of developing serious eye problems. Having an annual eye check with a specialist (an ophthalmologist or an optometrist) can help pick up signs of a potentially serious eye problem early so that it can be treated.
If the small blood vessels of your kidney become blocked and leaky, your kidneys will work less efficiently. In rare, severe cases, this can lead to kidney failure and the need for dialysis (treatment to replicate the functions of the kidneys). In some cases, a kidney transplant may be necessary.
Damage to the nerves of the foot can mean that small nicks and cuts are not noticed, which can lead to the development of a foot ulcer. About 1 in 10 people with diabetes get a foot ulcer, which can cause serious infection. If you develop nerve damage, you should check your feet every day and report any changes to your doctor, nurse or podiatrist. Look out for sores and cuts that do not heal, puffiness or swelling and skin that feels hot to the touch. You should also have a foot examination at least once a year.
In men with diabetes, particularly those who smoke, nerve and blood vessel damage can lead to erection problems. This can usually be treated with medication.
Women with diabetes may experience a reduced sex drive, vaginal dryness, reduced ability to orgasm and pain during sex.
Miscarriage and stillbirth
Pregnant women with diabetes have an increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. If your blood sugar level is not carefully controlled during early pregnancy, there is also an increased risk of the baby developing a serious birth defect. Pregnant women with diabetes will usually have their antenatal check-ups in hospital or a diabetic clinic. This allows doctors to keep a close eye on their blood sugar levels and control their insulin dosage more easily.
Information on this page is provided by NHS Choices. http://www.nhs.uk