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Complications of Type 2 Diabetes

Friday 9 February 2024
6 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. Cardiovascular Health and Diabetes

II. Kidney Function and Diabetes

III. Nervous System and Diabetes

IV. Vision and Diabetes

V. Conclusion

Living with diabetes can feel overwhelming at times, but the good news is that many of its potential health complications are preventable or can be delayed. Even if you’ve had diabetes for years, it’s never too late to start taking better care of yourself.

In this article, we’ll walk you through common diabetes complications and provide tips to help prevent or delay them.  

Cardiovascular Health and Diabetes

Diabetes and heart disease often go hand in hand. Research shows that individuals with diabetes can develop heart disease 15 years earlier than people without diabetes. [1]

The reason diabetes and heart disease are so closely linked is that diabetes makes you prone to other problems that increase the risk of heart disease.

  • High blood sugar can damage the nerves and blood vessels that regulate the heart's functions.
  • High blood pressure puts extra force on your arteries, which can cause damage to artery walls. Combined with diabetes, high blood pressure exponentially increases your risk of heart disease.
  • Too much LDL cholesterol directly contributes to plaque formation as this sticky substance adheres to damaged spots on artery walls. The thickening of artery walls reduces blood flow to the rest of the body. [1]

The good news is that there are steps you can take to lower your risk of heart disease:

  • Follow a healthy diet: Incorporate fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Limit processed foods and sugary drinks.
  • Work towards a healthy weight: Fat accumulation results in insulin resistance over time. Losing even 5% of your body weight can help decrease insulin resistance and blood sugar levels.
  • Get regular physical activity: Exercise makes your body's cells more responsive to insulin, helping to lower high blood sugar. [1]

In addition to following a healthy diet and becoming more active, it’s important to monitor your ABCs:

  • A: Get your A1C tested regularly to track average blood sugar over the past three months.
  • B: Keep blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg (or the value set by your doctor)
  • C: Manage your cholesterol levels
  • s: Do not smoke [1]

Kidney Function and Diabetes

Doctor sitting on a desk writing. Kidney model on his desk.

Diabetes can take a toll on your kidneys over many years. When blood sugar and blood pressure are too high for too long, it can gradually damage the tiny filters inside your kidneys. If the filters inside the kidneys are damaged, it becomes harder for your kidneys to remove extra fluid and waste from your body. The medical name for this is diabetic nephropathy, but it's more commonly called diabetic kidney disease. [2]

Diabetic nephropathy rarely has symptoms in the early stages, so it's important to get your kidneys regularly checked if you have diabetes. Your doctor will test kidney function with a blood or urine test. [2]

There are two different types of urine tests your doctor may order. One of the earliest signs that your kidneys aren’t working properly is when protein is present in your urine.

  • Dipstick urine test: This is a quick test to look for albumin (protein) in your urine. For the test, your doctor will ask you for a urine sample. Then, a chemically treated paper will be placed inside the urine to see if protein levels are normal. If the paper changes color, protein levels are too high.
  • Urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio (UACR): This test compares the amount of protein (albumin) to the amount of waste product (creatinine) that passes into your urine over 24 hours. A UACR result of 30 or above may indicate kidney disease. [2]

In addition to a urine test, your doctor may order blood tests to check for kidney function.

  • Serum creatinine test measures the amount of creatinine in your blood. If the creatinine levels are too high, it can indicate your kidneys are not functioning properly. Typically, a normal creatinine level is 1.2 for women and 1.4 for men.
  • Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) measures your kidney’s efficiency in removing toxins, fluid, and waste. If the GFR is low, it can indicate kidney issues. A normal GFR level is 60.
  • Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) measures urea nitrogen (a waste product) in your blood. Usually, this waste product is eliminated by the kidneys. As kidney disease worsens, BUN will increase. Normal BUN ranges between 7 and 20. {[2}}

In addition to getting your kidneys checked regularly, you can help keep your kidneys healthy by staying active, eating a healthy diet, and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.

Nervous System and Diabetes

Closeup of nerve synapse

About half of all people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes experience nerve damage that impairs sensation or movement. This is termed “diabetic neuropathy” and can be divided further into four types:

  • Peripheral neuropathy: nerve damage in your legs, feet, arms, or hands
  • Autonomic neuropathy: nerve damage in your internal organs
  • Focal neuropathy: nerve damage to a single nerve in your hand, head, torso, or leg
  • Proximal neuropathy: nerve damage in your hip, buttock, or thigh [3]

Diabetic neuropathy is due to high blood sugar over a long period of time. This can impair your nerves’ ability to transmit signals and damage the blood vessels that provide blood and nutrients to these nerves. [3]

The good news is that nerve damage can be delayed or prevented by following some guidelines:

  • Ensuring your blood sugar levels are within your target range
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Keep your blood pressure within the target range set by your doctor (usually 140/90 mmHg)
  • Staying active
  • Following a healthy diet [3]

Vision and Diabetes

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when chronically high blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the back of your eyes. These damaged blood vessels swell and leak into the retina, which can cause blind spots or blurred vision. [4]

Fortunately, diabetic retinopathy can be avoided by getting annual eye exams and managing your diabetes. During your eye exam, the doctor will check for the following:

  • How well you can see letters and symbols from a distance
  • The health of your retina and if there are any leaky blood vessels [4]

In addition to regular eye exams, monitoring any vision changes you may experience is important. This is especially important if these changes happen suddenly.

  • Difficulty reading
  • Distortion
  • Blind spots
  • Blurring
  • Spots in your vision [4]

If your doctor diagnoses you with diabetic retinopathy, there are treatment options available to help protect your vision.

  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Reattaching the retina
  • VEGF inhibitors to slow down diabetic retinopathy
  • Photocoagulation (laser therapy) to slow down the growth of new blood vessels [4]


Living with Type 2 diabetes involves a comprehensive approach that goes beyond blood sugar monitoring. By understanding and addressing complications related to cardiovascular health, kidney function, nerve health, and vision, you can help delay or prevent complications.

If you have more questions about type 2 diabetes, visit our dedicated diabetes blog for more information.

The content provided in this article is based on thorough research and in some cases, reviewed by a medical professional. Our goal for the information is to provide helpful, general health informational. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice.