Latest Catalogue Diabetes - Complications

Diabetes - Complications


Diabetes or diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder characterised by hyperglycaemia (high blood glucose levels) caused by impairment in insulin secretion and/or action. High blood glucose is an important factor in the cause of long-term diabetic complications.


Eye damage is a common complication of diabetes. With proper blood glucose management and early detection, the risk of eye damage can be reduced. Retinopathy is damage to the small blood vessels in the back of the eyes and may result in loss of vision. Very often no symptoms are present until significant damage has occurred. See the topic on Diabetic Retinopathy for further information.
Cataracts are another common diabetic complication affecting the eyes. A cataract causes a loss of transparency of the eye. A grey-white opacity may be seen within the lens of the eye and can be removed surgically with good results. The most obvious symptom of a cataract is a loss or impairment of vision.

Diabetes may cause the narrowing and hardening of blood vessels, which may cause blood vessels to become blocked. Symptoms of heart problems include chest pain that is not relieved by rest, sweating, nausea and/or shortness of breath. Sometimes the only symptoms may be breathlessness, fatigue or unexpected changes in the person's blood glucose levels. It is very important to have regular medical check ups. See the topic Diabetes and Vascular Disease on the Healthpoint for further information.

Nerve damage and damage of blood vessels in the legs and feet may be caused by high blood glucose levels. When the nerves in the feet are damaged, there is no way for the body to be alerted to any pain or discomfort in the feet. If the nerves are not functioning, the body may be unaware of danger or injury to the feet. Pins and needles, numbness and loss of pain sensation are common symptoms of nerve damage.
Damage to blood vessels may occur in some people with diabetes. The blocking of blood vessels (reducing the amount of blood flow) occurs quickly in the feet and legs where the arteries are smallest. Feet that are not receiving a healthy supply of blood become more prone to infections following any injury which breaks the skin.
Signs of poor blood supply include: sharp pains in the calf muscles after walking short distances, pain in the feet even when resting, cold feet and feet looking reddish-blue in colour. Check your feet regularly. See the Diabetic Neuropathy and Diabetes and Foot Care topics on the Healthpoint for further information.

Diabetes can damage small blood vessels in the kidneys and the filtering system of the kidneys may start to leak. This means that waste products are removed from the blood less efficiently and protein is able to leak out into the urine. This condition is usually painless. Kidney damage can have serious consequences and it is advisable for people with Diabetes to be tested yearly. An early sign of kidney damage is protein in the urine which is detected by a urine test. See the Diabetic Nephropathy topic on the Healthpoint for further information.

People with diabetes are at greater risk of developing infections if blood glucose levels are not well controlled. Common infections include fungal infections, urinary tract infection, vaginitis, thrush and mouth and wound infections. Infections cause blood glucose levels to increase. See your Doctor at the first sign of an infection.


Always seek and follow the advice of your Doctor and other members of your diabetes management team (Dietitian, diabetes Educator, Eye Specialist etc). Diabetes is a condition that needs constant attention. It is important that people with Diabetes learn how to manage the condition.
Minimising the risk of developing diabetes complications involves:
- Controlling diabetes.
- Controlling cholesterol and triglycerides levels.
- Stopping smoking.
- Controlling high blood pressure.
- Appropriate foot care.
- Regular medical reviews to check the back of eyes, blood pressure, kidney and nerve function,. weight, feet, overall blood glucose control, blood fats test.


Always consult your Doctor before taking any supplement or herbs. Nutritional supplements may only be of benefit if dietary intake is inadequate.


- Chromium helps control blood glucose levels.

- Essential fatty acids, such as omega 3 essential fatty acids found in fish oil, help to reduce elevated triglycerides and reduce the severity of diabetic neuropathy.

- B Complex vitamins are involved in promoting healthy blood sugar metabolism.

- CoQ10 has a protective effect on blood vessels. Individuals with Diabetes and prediabetes are at risk of blood vessel injury.

- Vitamin C, vitamin E and the minerals zinc and magnesium may help to reduce urinary protein output (a marker of glomerular renal function) in patients with diabetic nephropathy.

- Alpha Lipoic Acid has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes. Alpha-lipoic acid may also be helpful in cases of diabetic neuropathy in type 1 and 2 diabetes.

- Garlic may stabilize blood sugar and help reduce risk of heart disease and other circulatory disorders by improving blood flow, lowering elevated blood pressure and reducing cholesterol levels.

- Psyllium has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels.

- Bilberry may help to prevent diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.

- Gymnema sylvestre is a herb that helps to control blood sugar and may play a role in alleviating Type 2 Diabetes-related symptoms


See the Diabetes Australia topic and the Vision Support Services topic on the Healthpoint.


Ask your Pharmacist for advice.
1) If you have any queries regarding your medication for diabetes, ask your Pharmacist.
2) Ask your Pharmacist about special diabetic products which are available e.g. blood glucose testing monitors etc.
3) Remember to always inform a Pharmacist that you have diabetes when purchasing any oral medication, as many mixtures contain sugar (e.g. cough mixture).
4) Ask your Pharmacist about the range of products available to help you stop smoking.
5) Remember to always inform a Pharmacist that you have diabetes when purchasing any foot remedies. People with diabetes tend to have poor circulation and this can lead to complications when self-treating foot problems - a Chiropodist/Podiatrist should always be consulted.
6) If the dietary intake is inadequate nutritional supplementation may be useful. See the Vitamins/Minerals/Herbs section in this topic and ask your Pharmacist for advice.