Diabetes can affect the body in a number of different ways.

In some cases the effects may be short term and can be eliminated through appropriate treatment. In the case of long term complications, any damage sustained tends to be permanent.

Whilst there are a lot of ways in which diabetes can affect the body, it’s important to note that the risks of developing health problems can be significantly reduced through good management of diabetes and living a healthy life.

Heart

Higher than normal blood sugar levels over a period of time can lead to an increase in risk of damage occurring to larger blood vessels in the body.

This raises the risk of blood clots forming in blood vessels which can lead to heart attacks – a form of coronary heart disease. Approximately, 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.

Brain

The brain is another major organ that can pose a threat to life if it is affected by damage or blockages in its blood supply.

Elevated blood sugar levels over a long period of time can cause blockages in the blood vessels supplying the brain, resulting in stroke, and can also damage the very small blood vessels in the outer part of the brain, increasing the risk of brain damage and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

In the short term, too low blood glucose levels can lead to a reduced ability to make decisions and cause confusion and disorientation.

Nerves

The nerves play a very important part throughout the body. Not only do they allow us to sense touch, nerves also allow our organs to function properly.

For instance, nerves are crucial in helping the digestive system to sense how it should respond. If the nerves become damaged we can lose our ability to sense pain in parts of the body that are affected and if nerve damage (neuropathy) develops, some of our organs may also become affected.

Kidneys

High blood sugar and high blood pressure increase the risk of kidney disease (nephropathy). This can happen if diabetes causes damage to the very small blood vessels that feed the nephrons, which help to filter blood in the kidneys.

Damage to these parts of the kidneys over time can lead to the kidneys failing to filter the blood effectively, which can become a serious problem unless treated.

Eyes

High blood sugar levels can also affect the small blood vessels that feed the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye, known as the retina. If damage is sustained to the retina’s blood vessels, (known as retinopathy), the body tries to develop new blood vessels.

However, this can be problematic in people with diabetes as the new blood vessels tend to be weak and this can lead to these blood vessels leaking. Leaking blood vessels can lead to dark spots on our vision and therefore reduced vision.

If fluid leaks onto the macula (maculopathy), the part of the eye responsible for our central vision, it can present a more immediate threat to being able to see.

Skin

There are a number of skin problems which are more likely as a result of higher than normal blood sugar levels. Skin can be affected in the following ways:

  • Fungal infections
  • Dry skin
  • Acanthosisnigricans – particularly in undiagnosed or uncontrolled type 2 diabetes

Fungal infections can develop over a short term period of high sugar levels, whereas dry skin or acanthosisnigricans will typically develop over longer periods of time.