Over time, if left untreated or improperly managed, high blood glucose (sugar) levels can cause a variety of costly and potentially life-threatening complications, including blindness, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, and erectile dysfunction.

Approximately 10 per cent of acute care hospital admissions are related to diabetes and its secondary complications. Fortunately, good diabetes care and management can prevent or delay the onset of these complications.

Heart disease

People with diabetes are at very high risk of heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke (cerebrovascular disease).

Kidney disease

Over the years, high blood glucose (sugar) levels and high blood pressure can damage the kidneys and prevent them from functioning properly or even cause them to fail completely. About one-third of people who have had diabetes for more than 15 years will develop kidney disease, but good diabetes management and regular screening can prevent or delay the loss of kidney function.

Eye disease (diabetic retinopathy)

This effect of diabetes on the eyes is the most common cause of blindness in people age 65 years and younger and the most common cause of new blindness in North America. It is estimated that approximately two million individuals in Canada have some form of diabetic retinopathy.

Nerve damage

Diabetes affects the circulation and immune systems which, in turn, impairs the body’s ability to heal itself. Over time, diabetes can damage sensory nerves (this is known as “neuropathy”), especially in the hands and feet. As a result, people with diabetes are less likely to feel a foot injury, such as a blister or a cut. Unnoticed and untreated, even small foot injuries like these can quickly become infected, potentially leading to serious complications like amputation. Seven of 10 non-traumatic limb amputations are the result of diabetes complications.

Problems with erection (impotence)

Although erectile dysfunction (ED) affects most men at some point in their lives, it is more common in men with diabetes. In fact, in up to 12 per cent of men with diabetes, ED is the first sign that leads to the diagnosis of diabetes. Older men with a longer duration of diabetes, poor blood glucose (sugar) control, and those who smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease, are at highest risk.


Approximately 25 per cent of people with diabetes suffer from depression.

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