Complications associated with diabetes

Over time, ongoing high BGLs can damage our body’s organs.   

Damage to the big blood vessels (macrovascular) can lead to heart attack and stroke. Damage to the small blood vessels (microvascular) can cause eye, kidney, feet and nerve problems.  

It’s important to keep your BGLs within your target range to reduce your risk of developing diabetes related complications and live well with diabetes.  

It’s never too late to reduce your risk of complications of diabetes. If you want to make a change and don’t know where to start contact your diabetes health care team or the Diabetes Queensland Helpline on 1800 177 055. 


Your mental health and wellbeing

When thinking of our health, too often we just think of our physical health, and forget our mental health and wellbeing – which is just as important.  

Managing your mental health helps you to feel more confident and live well with diabetes. 

Managing stress and emotions may also help us to feel more positive, perform better at work and have more fulfilling relationships with others. We also know that stress can lead to an increase in our BGLs, so it is important to find strategies to help us cope with stressful situations. 

Keeping your mind healthy

How you manage stress will depend on what works for you – but here are simple options: 

  • Talk to someone about your stress 
  • Try not to dwell on negative thoughts – think positively 
  • Keep active. Exercise is a great for our mental health 
  • Find time for hobbies and other leisure activities. Enjoy life! 
  • Spend time with family and friends 
  • Get outdoors.  

Who can help?

If you feel you need help there is a lot of support available. Your GP may recommend you talk to a psychologist to work through managing stress, depression or anxiety. There are a range of telephonebased support services including Beyond Blue and Black Dog and there are a range of apps like Smiling MindCalm or HeadSpace 

Diabetes Queensland also offers a Psychologist on Call service. You can talk over the phone with our qualified psychologist for support and advice in managing your mental and emotional wellbeing as well as your diabetes. 


Diabetes and your eyes

When you have diabetes you are at an increased risk of developing eye problems, which if left untreated can lead to poor vision and blindness. The great news is, almost all serious vision loss can be prevented by managing your diabetes well and having regular eye examinations.  

Some eye complications associated with diabetes include: 

  • Blurred Vision – High BGLs can change the shape of the lens in your eye, resulting in blurred vision. When glucose levels return to the target range, vision also usually returns to normal. 
  • Cataracts – This ‘clouding’ of the eye lens occurs earlier and more rapidly in people living with diabetes. If you have cataracts they can be removed with surgery. 
  • Glaucoma – An eye disease in which the optic nerve is damaged. Glaucoma usually progresses slowly. While it can affect anyone, it is more common in people living with diabetes. 
  • Retinopathy  Over time elevated BGLs may lead to damage of the tiny vessels that supply blood to the eye. If these vessels become blocked, weak or leaky this can cause loss of vision. 

How can you keep your eyes healthy?  

Regular eye examinations are the best way to monitor any changes in your eyes and vision. It is recommended you have a comprehensive eye examination at least once every two years – check your Annual Cycle of Care to see when your next check-up is due. 

Who can help? 

The members of your diabetes health care team who can help you to look after your eyes include: 

GP: Your GP can provide you with referrals to eye specialists. 

Optometrist: Your optometrist will examine the different parts of your eyes and assess whether there have been any changes to your vision or eye health. A report will be provided to your GP and you may be referred to an ophthalmologist for further treatment if necessary. 

Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist (medical eye specialist) will be a part of your team if your eyes require specialised medical treatment such as surgery. 


Your teeth and gums

Keeping your teeth and gums healthy helps protect you from gum disease. Gum disease (or periodontal disease) is a mouth infection which can get worse over time and can cause an increase in your BGLs. When you are living with diabetes, you are at increased risk of developing gum disease. Ongoing high BGLs above your target range can further increase your risk.  

What are the signs of gum disease?

  • Red, tenderswollen gums that bleed easily 
  • Bad breath 
  • Pus around the teeth and gums 
  • Teeth moving around or loose. 

How can you keep your teeth and gums healthy? 

The good news is, there is lots you can do to protect yourself from gum disease including: 

  • Keeping BGLs  as much as possible within your target range 
  • Brushing your teeth twice a day, and flossing once a day 
  • Visiting your dentist for a check-up every six months 
  • Not smoking. 

Who can help?

Your dentist and dental hygienist can help you to keep your teeth and gums healthy. They can also assess and treat any issues with your teeth or gums. 

Your diabetes health team can also help you keep your BGLs within your target range which will assist in reducing teeth and gum complications. 


Your cardiovascular health

Cardiovascular health refers to the health of your heart and the arteries and veins that carry blood throughout your bodyWhen you are living with diabetes, you are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This is because of changes that can occur to the blood vessels. Ongoing high BGLs can further increase your risk as well as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. 

When these factors are combined it can significantly increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and damage to the larger blood vessels in your body (cardiovascular disease).  

How can you keep your heart and blood vessels healthy?

Reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease is similar to reducing your risk of other diabetes-related complications: 

  • Be physically active 
  • Eat a healthy well-balanced diet  
  • Maintain a healthy body weight 
  • Don’t smoke 
  • Maintain cholesterol and blood pressure within your target range 
  • Aim to keep your BGLs within your target range. 

Who can help? 

Your GP can monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol and HbA1c. You may require one or more medications to help maintain your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose within recommended targets. 

Your GP may also refer you to a medical specialist such as a cardiologist who can support you further. 

An exercise physiologist can also help by developing an individualised physical activity plan. You might also benefit from seeing a dietitian who can help you incorporate heart friendly foods in your diet. 


Your kidney health

Your kidneys are important for filtering waste products from your blood. Over time, high BGLs and blood pressure can reduce your kidney’s ability to filter your blood, increasing the risk of nephropathy (diabetes-related kidney disease). Early signs of kidney damage are a slowing in the kidney’s filtration rate and protein leaking into the urine. 

How can you keep your kidneys healthy? 

You can reduce the risk of damage to your kidneys by following these simple steps: 

  • Be physically active 
  • Maintain a healthy body weight 
  • Don’t smoke 
  • Maintain cholesterol and blood pressure within your target range 
  • Aim to keep your BGLs within your target range. 

Who can help? 

It is important to ask your GP to monitor your kidney filtration rate and check for protein in your urine at least once every 12 months. Check your Annual Cycle of Care to see when your next check-up is due. 

Your sexual health

Diabetes can contribute to sexual problems for both men and women. It is important to remember you are not alone, and there is support available. 

Are you a male with diabetes?

Men with diabetes can experience problems with erectile function. This is generally due to reduced blood flow and nerve damage, which can both be affected by diabetes. There are a number of treatments available for erectile dysfunction. Speak to your GP for more information. 

Are you a female with diabetes?

Diabetes can also impact women’s sexual health. There is less known about how diabetes effects women’s sexual health. However, issues may include a decrease in sexual desire, increased vaginal dryness, pain during sexual intercourse and increased episodes of vaginal thrush. Thrush can be reduced by maintaining BGLs within the recommended range. During menstruation (periods) or menopause your diabetes management will need to change. Speak with your GP or diabetes educator for more information. 


Diabetes and your feet

Caring for your feet is a very important part of your diabetes management. Problems can occur like reduced sensation, pain (peripheral neuropathy) and/or reduced blood flow (peripheral vascular disease). 

How do you care for your feet with diabetes?

Managing your diabetes, and in particular your BGLs, will go a long way to delaying or preventing complications with your feet. Our top tips to remember when caring for your feet include:

  • Get to know your feet, wash and dry them carefully each day 
  • Check for any bruises, blisters, or new marks 
  • Seek medical advice if you notice any changes to your feet 
  • Cut your toenails regularly. If you can’t see or reach your feet have someone help you. 

Who can help? 

A podiatrist can help you look after your feet and is a key member of your diabetes healthcare team. They can complete foot checks and other assessments to determine your risk of developing any serious problems. A podiatrist can also provide you with advice on caring for your feet and appropriate foot wear. They can even show you how to check your feet at home. 

It is recommended you have your feet checked at least twice a year by a health professional. If you aren’t able to see a podiatrist your GP, practice purse or specialist can check your feet for you. Refer to your Annual Cycle of Care to see when your next check-up is due. 


Reducing complications from diabetes

It is never too late to make positive changes and reduce your risk of diabetes-related complications. Always remember to: 

  • Keep your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol  within target levels 
  • See your GP for all your Annual Cycle of Care checks 
  • Take all prescribed mediations  
  • Look after your emotional wellbeing 
  • Don’t smoke. Call Quitline on 13 7848 for help 
  • Be active on most, preferably all, days every week. Follow a healthy eating plan 
  • Limit your alcohol intake 
  • Lose excess weight 
  • Look after your feet and choose footwear that protects them. 

If you want to make a change and don’t know where to start, see our diabetes factsheets for more information. Talk to your GP or a member of your diabetes health care team, or you can call the Diabetes Queensland Helpline on 1800 177 055.  

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