Diabetes complications

The complications of diabetes are serious but with appropriate lifestyle changes and attention to blood glucose control, you can substantially reduce the risk of these complications.

Complications occur because over time persistent high blood glucose levels can damage the body’s organs. This damage is referred to as diabetes-related complications. It may be frightening to think about complications when you’re still dealing with the news that you have diabetes, but taking action today can make a huge difference to tomorrow. With the support of your healthcare team you will be able to develop a daily self-management program that includes setting goals, taking responsibility and positive lifestyle choices.

Effective diabetes care means taking charge of your diabetes management. Ask questions and request more information if you need to. The more you know the more confident you will become and the easier it will be to manage your diabetes. Complications can affect many parts of the body including eyes, heart, kidneys, nerves and feet. Your management will include checks for all these areas. To help you keep on track and remember when and how often you need to get tested, get to know the annual cycle of care.

Complications can affect many parts of the body
including eyes, heart, kidneys, nerves and feet.

When diabetes is left undiagnosed or unchecked for too long, it can be responsible for a number of diabetes-related complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, limb amputation, erectile dysfunction and persistent infections. To find out more about complications read through the links below. These complications are serious but keeping blood glucose, blood pressure and blood fat levels under control will greatly help to reduce the risk of developing complications.

Eye disease

Diabetes can damage the back of the eye and affect vision. The development of diabetic retinopathy is strongly related to the length of time diabetes has been present and the degree of blood glucose control. Regular checks and treatment can prevent serious eye problems and blindness caused by retinopathy. Read the information sheet for more details.

Kidney disease

Your kidneys help to clean your blood. They remove waste from the blood and pass it out of the body as urine. Over time, diabetes can cause damage to the kidneys (diabetic nephropathy). You will not notice damage to your kidneys until it’s quite advanced, so it is important that you have the recommended tests to pick up any problems early. If the kidneys fail, toxic waste products stay in the body, fluids build up and the chemical balance is upset. If the kidneys are unable to function properly, dialysis treatments or a kidney transplant will be needed. The risk of developing kidney problems is reduced by managing your blood glucose levels, having regular kidney and blood pressure checks and leading a healthy lifestyle. Early signs of kidney problems can be detected through a urine test. Finding out about early kidney damage is simple and painless. Treatment at this time can prevent further damage. Read more here.

Nerve damage and lower limb complications

Diabetic neuropathy is the medical name given to progressive damage to the nervous system caused by diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy can lead to a loss of feeling in the hands and feet. Reduced circulation resulting from high blood glucose impairs normal wound healing in the extremities, so minor damage can linger and develop into permanent injury. Personal daily foot checks and thorough annual foot examinations conducted by your doctor or podiatrist will help to reduce your risk of lower limb complications. For further information check out our information sheet here.

Sexual health

While most people with diabetes, both male and female, are able to lead completely normal sex lives, diabetes may contribute to sexual problems for some people. To read more click here.

Heart disease and stroke

People with diabetes are at increased risk of heart disease and stroke due to raised blood glucose levels (BGLs), in association with high blood pressure and cholesterol. Follow this link for more details.

Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a type of sleep disorder characterised by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow or infrequent breathing during sleep. People with sleep apnoea commonly snore and although they may seem asleep, their quality of sleep suffers greatly. Constant gasping for air prevents sufferers achieving a deep sleep, leaving people sleep deprived.

Sleep apnoea makes up around 80% of sleep-related breathing disorders, affecting up to four per cent of men and two per cent of women in Australia. Clinical studies have shown that diabetes and sleep apnoea are closely linked, with sleep apnoea sufferers nine times more likely to also have type 2 diabetes.

Find out more here.


People living with diabetes are twice as likely to develop hearing loss through associated complications. An Audiologist or Audiometrist cares for ears and hearing, and makes up an essential part of your diabetes health team.


Hypoglycaemia (also called a hypo), is when your blood glucose level has dropped too low. While hypoglycaemia can be experienced by people taking certain tablets for their diabetes, it is more common in people who inject insulin. It is generally not a problem for people with type 2 diabetes who can manage their diabetes through a healthy eating plan and physical activity alone, however, it is possible. For more information follow this link.


Hyperglycaemia means high blood glucose levels. It is possible for your blood glucose levels to be high and not be aware of it because many people do not experience the symptoms of hyperglycaemia (hyper). To find out more on how to recognise and manage hyperglycaemia click here.

Oral health

People with diabetes, regardless of their age, are at greater risk of developing gum disease than people who do not have diabetes. People with diabetes who often have high blood glucose levels are two to three times more likely to develop gum disease than those with well managed diabetes. For more information on looking after your oral health please read our information sheet here.

Diabetes NSW & ACT - Live your life