What causes diabetes complications?

Kate Myerson
Nutrition & Dietetics

When blood sugars stay elevated for a long period of time they can cause damage and complications. Think about the small veins that run through your eyes to your toes, glucose or sugar sticks to your blood cells and that means the glucose or sugar also have to traveling through those little veins. The higher your blood sugar reading, the more sugar is stuck to your blood cells. What gets the sugar out of our blood stream is adequate insulin and adequate utilization of insulin that can take the sugar in your blood and bring it in out body for energy.

The good news is that we make new red blood cells every 3 months. (That’s why we get our A1c checked every 3 months) So the glucose or sugar doesn't stick to your blood cells forever and cause damage but having high blood sugar readings for a long time can cause damage. 

Linda Kaminski
Nutrition & Dietetics

Long-periods of uncontrolled, high blood sugar can lead to diabetes complications, as sugar wreaks havoc on large and small blood vessels throughout the body that feed your heart, kidneys, eyes, nerves, feet, teeth, etc. Paying close attention to post-prandial (after meals) blood sugar is the best way to know if your blood sugar is going high and staying high. If you only test once a day, such as first thing in the morning, you are ignorant to any other blood sugar excursions that occur throughout the day. I suggest testing before and 2 hours after a different meal each day (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) in order to get a sense of when your blood sugar tends to run high and the types or portions of food that seem to aggravate it the most.

Monitoring your blood sugar throughout the day and taking quick action to lower it (such as exercising or taking more insulin) will help keep your sugars from running too high for too long, thereby decreasing your risk of complications. If you see a pattern of high blood sugar for more than three days in a row despite your best efforts at diet and exercise, you may want to discuss medication or lifestyle adjustments with your doctor or dietitian to get your sugar under better control.

Dr. Jack Merendino, MD
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism
The accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in tissues causes many of the complications of diabetes. For instance, AGEs cause inflammation that can trigger clogged arteries, resulting in heart disease and erectile dysfunction. They can also damage the eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Lowering blood sugar reduces AGE damage, and medications that prevent AGE formation are being studied as a way to stop or slow the development of diabetic complications.

Take a deep breath; the complications of diabetes are pretty sobering. Here’s the important thing to remember, though: by eating healthfully, exercising, and taking your medications properly, you will dramatically reduce the likelihood of developing any of these problems, and you’ll help slow their progress if you already have one or more of them.
The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes

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The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes

Bob Greene has helped millions of Americans become fit and healthy with his life-changing Best Life plan. Now, for the first time, Oprah's trusted expert on diet and fitness teams up with a leading...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.