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How diabetes damages the body

You can avoid, or at least delay, many of the harmful side effects of diabetes by controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure and other conditions.

Brain: People with diabetes often have high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke.

Eyes: Over time, the high blood pressure and high glucose levels that accompany diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the eyes. Called diabetic retinopathy, this eye disease can lead to blindness.

Mouth: Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to mouth problems like infection and gum disease.

Heart: People with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease, which can cause heart attack and heart failure.

Digestive tract: Diabetes-related nerve damage can cause sluggish emptying of the stomach. This can lead to pain, nausea and vomiting and can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Kidneys: Over the long term, diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys. This can cause kidney disease.

Liver: People with diabetes have a tendency toward fatty liver disease, which raises the risk for cirrhosis and liver failure.

Sexual function: For men, nerve and blood vessel damage caused by diabetes can lead to erectile dysfunction. In women, it can cause vaginal dryness and trouble reaching orgasm.

Legs: Poor circulation can lead to peripheral arterial disease, which slows wound healing and raises the risk for foot ulcers, infection and amputation.

Feet: Nerve damage caused by diabetes can lead to pain or numbness that makes it hard to feel blisters or cuts. Because diabetes can impair blood flow, these wounds may heal slowly or become infected.

Sources: American Diabetes Association; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; UpToDate

reviewed 8/19/2018
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