Diabetes - possible complications

Diabetes - possible complications

The risk of diabetes complications may be minimised by having good long-term blood glucose control. Screening is important to allow for early detection of possible developing complications.

Key points to remember about diabetes complications 

  • the risk of diabetes complications may be minimised by having good long-term blood glucose control
  • screening is important to allow for early detection of possible developing complications
  • smoking increases the risk of complications

What diabetes complications are possible?

Graphic representation of diabetes complications (eye, heart, kidney etc)

Eye problems

Retinopathy occurs when there is damage to the retina. The retina is the thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye. It contains small blood vessels and nerve endings for vision. Other diabetes related eye conditions which can occur are cataracts and blurred vision. Regular screening will help to minimise any damage.

The current recommendation for screening for retinopathy is:

  • 1 to 2 yearly, beginning 2 years after diagnosis, in adolescents
  • 1 to 2 yearly, beginning 5 years after diagnosis or from age 10 years in children

Kidney problems

The kidneys act as a filter for our bodies, passing waste into the urine to be removed from the body. Nephropathy refers to kidney damage associated with diabetes. Most at risk are people who have poor diabetes control (consistently high blood glucose levels or very erratic blood glucose levels) over a long period of time. Regular screening to look for protein in the urine (microalbuminuria) will help to identify any early changes with the kidneys and minimise any damage that this condition may cause. The screening test for nephropathy is a urine sample, and blood pressure also needs to be checked regularly.

The current recommendation for screening for nephropathy is:

  • once a year, beginning 2 years after diagnosis, in adolescents
  • once a year, beginning 5 years after diagnosis or from age 10 years in children

Nerve problems

Neuropathy refers to nerve damage associated with diabetes. Again, most at risk are people who have poor diabetes control (consistently high blood glucose levels or very erratic blood glucose levels) over a long period of time.

Foot problems

Foot problems, due to decreased blood flow or nerve problems, are unlikely to occur in children or young people. But, feet need to be well cared to prevent problems in later life. Podiatrists (people who treat foot disorders) can help.

Vascular (blood vessel) disease

This increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. A person with type 2 diabetes has an increased risk of getting vascular disease at an early age.

High blood pressure (hypertension)

This increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Blood pressure should be checked at time of diagnosis and then every year for children and more often for adolescents.

Cholesterol or lipids

Cholesterol is a fat substance that is naturally present in blood and cells. High cholesterol increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The current recommendation for lipid screening is:

  • every 5 years from time of diagnosis or from 12 years of age, then once a year after puberty

Auto-immune conditions (thyroid disease and coeliac disease)

People with type 1 diabetes have a higher risk for developing other auto-immune conditions. Screening blood tests are at diagnosis then every year for the first 5 years then every 2 years.

The Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledges the cooperation of the Starship Children's Hospital, Auckland District Health Board. The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the National Clinical Network Children and Young People's Diabetes Services.

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This page last reviewed 29 July 2016.
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