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What are the Common Complications of Diabetes Mellitus?

Updated on May 7, 2013

Every disease or health illness that is not properly attended will develop complication/s. These are more severe and more complicated to attend to than the original health problem. The involved major organs in diabetes mellitus will undergo major alteration in their structures and functioning which makes them manifest failures and deeper form of life-threatening characteristics. Commonly affected organs in diabetes mellitus are the brain, kidneys, heart, and skin.

The complications of diabetes mellitus are divided into two, the acute complications and the chronic complications. The acute complications consist of health problems that occur with the sudden rise or fall of blood glucose on extreme levels. The chronic complications include complex manifestations; this means that diabetes mellitus had already progressed and affected major organs and body processes. The manifestations of health problems are localized or systemic in nature, depending on the organ or system involved. No matter what the complication is, it is as deadly as the other grave diseases.



Acute complications of diabetes mellitus are merely products of either hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar level) due to uncontrolled blood glucose level or hypoglycemia due to excessive insulin use.

a. Hypoglycemia. This occurs as a product of too much insulin dosage or the administration of higher insulin dosage than what is required by the body in a given level. This is a complication that is most of the time from taking insulin without checking first the blood sugar level. This is co-caused by too much regulation of carbohydrates intake and vigorous exercise while on insulin therapy.

b. Hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome (HHNKS). This commonly affects diabetics with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (type II). This causes severe dehydration, hyperglycemia, and stupor. This is an emergency state which requires immediate medical attention.

c. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This commonly occurs among type I diabetics. This is triggered by infection during times of sudden rise of uncontrolled blood glucose level. This brings severe dehydration, ketonuria, and acidosis to the patient. This is also an emergency situation needing immediate medical attention.



These complications of diabetes mellitus were gradually developed over time. Most of them took years from the time of diagnosis of diabetes to its deep involvement of a specific organ, leading to complex manifestations of its signs and symptoms.

a. Cerebrovascular disease (CVD). The occurrence of this health problem doubles with diabetes. This is due to the involvement of the kidney and other blood pressure regulating mechanism of the body. This may lead to transient ischemic attack (TIA) or otherwise known as pre-stroke state, and/or stroke proper through hypertension, smoking and increased lipid levels. This is the deadliest among the chronic complications of diabetes mellitus because it attacks anytime, even without prior causes and manifestations.

b. Coronary artery disease (CAD). This may cause increased risk to “silent” myocardial infarction (MI), a health condition involving the heart muscles. This was due to the constant formation of plaque deposits (cholesterol) along the walls of arteries from chronic high blood glucose level in diabetes.

c. Peripheral vascular disease. This accounts for almost 50% of non-traumatic limb amputation cases. The chronic insult on the periphery from diabetes causes lesser and lesser ability of the body to do wound healing. Once wound doesn’t heal and progresses upward, this now causes higher levels of amputation.

d. Nephropathy. This happens as the kidneys were involved. This occurs through thickening of the glomerular basement membrane and renal sclerosis. Nephropathy is commonly seen in almost 35% among type I diabetics after more than 20 years from the diagnosis of diabetes and 10% of the type II diabetics after 10 years of diagnosis of diabetes.

e. Retinopathy. This is the development of blot hemorrhages and microaneuryms in the retina from chronic exposure to elevated blood glucose level. More than 50% of the diabetics under type I and 20% of the diabetics under type II develops retinopathy after 10 years from the first diagnosis of diabetes.

f. Peripheral neuropathy. This occurs as the chronic exposure to high blood sugar affects the nerves of the periphery. This is classically manifested by painful, distal, symmetrical polyneuropathy. This affects more than half of the diabetic population.

g. Autonomic neuropathy. This involve problems with:




*Orthostatic hypotension


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