Complications of diabetes

If you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, you might develop complications. Keeping your diabetes under good control will reduce your chances of having problems.

Eyes and diabetes

If you have diabetes, you will need regular eye checks because you have an increased risk of several eye problems. Diabetes eye damage needs to be picked up as early as possible for it to be successfully stopped or treated. If it is not picked up early it can lead to the loss of part or all of your sight.

  • Over time, high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels at the back of your eye (retina). This is known as diabetic retinopathy. Changes can range from mild to severe affecting your sight and possibly leading to blindness. You can have early diabetic retinopathy without knowing it. There are treatments that can slow the disease and save your sight if they are done early enough.

  • Glaucoma is an increase in pressure inside your eye that can make you lose your vision. People with diabetes are almost twice as likely to develop it than people without diabetes. You can get your eyes checked for signs of glaucoma when you have your diabetes eye check.

  • A cataract is when the eye's clear lens gets cloudy, blocking light. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop this eye condition. This develops faster with tamariki and teens with diabetes.

Feet and diabetes

Diabetes can damage the nerves (neuropathy) and blood vessels (vascular disease) to your feet. This can affect the feeling you have in your feet and the circulation around your feet.

These changes can lead to problems with your feet such as infections and ulcers. Severe foot disease can lead to you losing toes or even your whole foot (amputation).

A foot check with your healthcare provider or podiatrist will pick up early signs of damage.

Kidney and diabetes

Diabetes can damage the small blood vessels and delicate filtering system in your kidneys. This is called diabetic nephropathy and it is the main cause of chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Kidney damage caused by diabetes happens slowly, but it does not happen to everyone with diabetes. It is more likely in people whose blood glucose levels are poorly controlled, who have high blood pressure or who smoke.

Heart and diabetes

Diabetes increases your risk of getting cardiovascular disease (CVD). This means there is a higher risk that you will have a heart attack or a stroke.

You are at a higher risk of getting cardiovascular disease if you are Māori, Pacific or South Asian.

It is important to have regular checks for the other things that increase your risk such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • kidney disease.

Learn to recognise the signs of a heart attack and stroke so you can quickly get help for yourself or someone close to you.

Heart attack


Related website

Diabetes New Zealand

Diabetes New Zealand is a Charitable Trust that represents and supports people living with or affected by diabetes.

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