Diabetes often leads to secondary diseases and complications caused by elevated and fluctuating blood sugar levels. Diabetes has both serious acute and longer-term complications, and they can affect several different organs.
Type 1 diabetes patients are at high risk of developing complications because it is not possible to completely emulate the body's own fine-tuned insulin regulation by supplying external insulin. Researchers have been able to establish that the risk of complications can be reduced by up to 70 percent in type 1 diabetes patients where some of their own insulin production has been preserved. This clearly demonstrates the importance of being able to at least partially preserve the ability of patients with type 1 diabetes to produce their own insulin.
If blood sugar levels become too low because a person has taken too much insulin, this can lead to an acute hypoglycemic coma. The person becomes unconscious, and the body's functions cease as the brain suffers an acute lack of sustenance. The situation can be reversed with a glucose injection. In the event of mild hypoglycemia, which is less serious, the person must eat something sweet quickly in order to raise the blood sugar level.
If a person has sharply elevated blood sugar levels due to lack of insulin this can lead to ketoacidosis. The condition arises when the body begins to break down its own cells to obtain sustenance, thereby releasing ketones and acids into the bloodstream. This is a life-threatening and extremely acute condition which requires intensive care to be reversed.
Cardiovascular disease is a common cause of death among diabetes patients. Diabetes patients run a greater risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke than healthy people. Impaired circulation in the legs and feet can lead to leg ulcers and amputation. A new study conducted by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm demonstrates that Swedes with type 1 diabetes run a risk of amputation 86 times greater than that of healthy people. Eleven percent of women and 21 percent of men with type 1 diabetes were forced to undergo amputation before age 65.
Diabetes is the primary cause of renal failure, requiring either dialysis or a kidney transplant. Half of all type 1 diabetes patients develop nephropathy.
Diabetes affects the nervous system in several different ways. The most common are loss of sensation and severe pain characterized by a stabbing or burning sensation in the legs, feet and hands. The pain is caused by damage to the peripheral nervous system as a result of diabetes. Diabetes pain leads to difficulty sleeping, reduced mobility, and difficulty working and engaging in social activities. Patients with neuropathic pain experience a significantly reduced quality of life.
Diabetes patients may experience damage to the blood vessels in the retina. The blood vessels may swell and leak fluid, which can lead to the development of retinopathy causing impaired vision and blindness in the worst cases.
Diabetes patients may also develop cataracts resulting in impaired vision. Diabetes patients run twice the risk of developing cataracts and in addition develop them at a much younger age than is typical in the average population.