Metabolic Health

Complications Of Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 & 2

Reviewed by

Shifa Fathima

Complications of Diabetes Every Diabetic Must Know

The efforts to get your diabetes under control are undoubtedly inevitable, considering the undesirable complications of diabetes. Every diabetic should be aware of complications of diabetes mellitus.

What is diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus (or diabetes) is a chronic condition differentiated by excess blood glucose levels. It is primarily caused by insufficient production of insulin in your body (a hormone that helps keep the blood glucose levels in limits) or the body’s inability to utilise insulin. High blood glucose levels cause symptoms such as increased thirst, fatigue, blurred vision and delayed healing of wounds.

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Type 1 diabetes

Often known as juvenile diabetes and insulin-dependent diabetes, this type of diabetes is a condition where the pancreas produces negligible or no insulin. Besides, some genetics and certain viruses usually cause type 1 diabetes. Its common symptoms include frequent urination, sudden onset of bedwetting in kids, increased thirst, weakness, and blurred vision.

Type 1 diabetes complications

Complications of diabetes tend to be pretty severe, even life-threatening at times. Type 1 diabetes complications include:

  • Increased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, atherosclerosis or narrowing of arteries, and increased blood pressure.
  • Nerve damage: (neuropathy), causing numbness or tingling sensation, usually starts from the tip of your legs.
  • Kidney damage: (nephropathy) causes kidney failure or irreversible kidney disease requiring dialysis.
  • Eye damage: particularly to the retina of the eye (potentially causing blindness).
  • Foot damage: risk of several foot complications, severe infections which may even require foot or leg amputation. Read more about the diabetic foot treatment.

Type 2 diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, the mechanism by which our body metabolises sugar is impaired, causing elevated blood glucose levels. This chronic type usually occurs in adults and is caused when your pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin, and the body responds poorly to the insulin. This disease develops slowly, and its common symptoms include frequent urination, excessive thirst or hunger, frequent infections, numbness in extremities, or blurred vision.

Type 2 diabetes complications

Some common complications of type 2 diabetes include hypoglycaemia, diabetic retinopathy, kidney diseases and diabetic neuropathy. The tricky part is that these complications of diabetes mellitus develop and progress very gradually, and you may not even notice them if you have diabetes for some time. Some common long term or short-term complications of diabetes mellitus include:

Short term diabetes complications

Short term complications of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Hypoglycaemia (noted especially with insulin) occurs when your blood glucose level drops too low. It shows symptoms such as sweating, increased heartbeat, confusion and anxiety.
  • Hyperosmolar hyperglycemic nonketotic syndrome (HHNS) is a condition with extremely high blood glucose levels, which may even cause death. This syndrome usually occurs in sick and older people and presents exaggerated diabetes symptoms.

Long term diabetes complications

Long term complications of diabetes commonly include:

  • Diabetic retinopathy: High blood glucose levels may cause cataracts or retinopathy, leading to loss of vision.
  • Kidney disease (Diabetic Nephropathy): This may eventually result in impaired kidney function requiring dialysis or kidney transplant.
  • Macrovascular problems: Long-term complication of type 2 diabetes includes damage to blood vessels because of consistently high blood sugar levels, commonly affecting the eyes, kidneys and nerves.
  • Diabetic neuropathy: The damage to blood vessels also damages the nerves causing different types of neuropathies such as peripheral (most common one affecting hands and legs), proximal, autonomic and focal.

What is gestational diabetes?

Diabetes detected for the first time during pregnancy is known as gestational diabetes. In this type, hormones or enzymes produced by the placenta make your body's cells more resistant to insulin. Usually, this type of diabetes is not allied with noticeable symptoms; however, you may experience excessive thirst or frequent urination.

Complications of gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes complications include:

  • Severe breathing difficulties: The newborn babies may suffer from respiratory distress syndrome.
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia): Hypoglycaemia may be observed during pregnancy (may cause seizures in the baby) or after delivery.  
  • High blood pressure: The risk of increased blood pressure is high in gestational diabetes.
  • Preeclampsia: It is a serious complication characterized by very high blood pressure, which can risk the lives of both mom and baby.

Complications of diabetes in pregnancy

Diabetes in pregnancy is often allied with complications as follows:

  • Excessive birth weight: Diabetic mothers may cause their babies to grow large, which can wedge in the birth canal or may be associated with birth-related injuries.
  • Early (preterm) birth: Elevated blood glucose levels increase the women's risk of early labour or delivery (before the due date)
  • Stillbirth: If left untreated, severe diabetes in pregnancy may cause the baby's death before or just after birth.
  • Having a surgical delivery: Your chances of having a C-section are very high if you have diabetes in pregnancy.

Diabetic foot complications

One of the common complications in diabetes mellitus is a diabetic foot related to several foot problems such as fungal infections, ulcers, corns, calluses or warts. Diabetic foot ulcer complications may be allied with:

  • Skin and bone infections: Even a small cut on the foot may cause infections. Increased infections in diabetes can be attributed to the compromised immune system and damaged blood or nerve vessels.
  • Abscess: Occasionally, the infection penetrates the bone or tissue and creates a pocket of pus called an abscess.
  • Gangrene: Diabetes impacts the blood vessels that supply blood to your fingers and toes. Impaired blood flow may cause the death of the tissue and may require the removal of the affected area or organ.
  • Deformities: Damaged nerves may weaken your feet muscles causing problems such as claw feet, hammertoes, and prominent metatarsal heads (heads of the bones just below your toes).
  • Amputation: Problems with blood vessels and nerves in diabetes reduce your sensation. This may cause your foot injury to go unnoticed until a severe infection results in an abscess and gangrene requiring amputation.

Bottomline

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic condition differentiated by excess blood glucose levels—type 1 and type 2 diabetes share symptoms such as excess thirst, frequent urination and fatigue. Complications of diabetes mellitus include eye damage, kidney damage, diabetic neuropathy and macrovascular problems. Besides, gestational diabetes and diabetic foot are associated with other detrimental complications.

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