Possible Complications of Type 2 Diabetes

Monday 12 April 2021
4 minute(s) read
.Stefan Reiner

Medically reviewed by

Stefan Reiner, PharmD, RPh

on 4 June 2021

Table of Contents

I. Managing Diabetes

II. Potential Complications

III. Vascular Problems

IV. Nerve Damage

V. Other Major Complications

VI. Treatment and Prevention

Managing Diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin and have poor sugar regulation. Type 2 diabetes also causes cells in the body to respond ineffectively to insulin. These two problems lead to long-term high blood sugar levels which can cause circulatory and immune system disorders over time. 

Managing type 2 diabetes requires losing excess weight, eating well, and exercising sufficiently. Diet and exercise are usually the first line of defense against potential complications like heart disease, nerve damage, and dementia. For people with more severe type 2 symptoms, prescription medications like Jardiance, Januvia, or Rybelsus may be needed to regulate insulin levels and improve blood sugar control.

But what are the potential complications of type 2 diabetes? Read on to learn about the dangers of untreated type 2 diabetes. [1]

two friends enjoying ice cream cones

Potential Complications 

There are many different type 2 diabetes complications. Some of them can be categorized as vascular conditions. These include heart and blood vessel disease and eye damage. Others are nerve-related, including neuropathy in the limbs, nerve damage in the digestive system, and erectile dysfunction. Finally, some complications are related to a weakened immune system. [1]

Vascular Problems

Type 2 diabetes can gradually affect the body’s large blood vessels and cause plaque buildup. This can significantly increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. [2] This type of complication is the number one cause of death in people who have diabetes. Statistically, heart disease and stroke affect type 2 patients twice as much as people without diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, you should be aware of the following vascular complications: 

Atherosclerosis: This condition occurs when the body’s blood vessels become restricted to the point where oxygen and nutrients cannot flow to the organs properly. Insufficient oxygen to the heart can cause coronary heart disease. If oxygen is blocked off from the legs, peripheral artery disease can occur. When blood is blocked from the brain, a stroke may occur. Long-term oxygen deficiency in the brain can lead to memory disorders like dementia. 

a teacup pouring licorice into a cup

Heart Failure: This complication happens when the muscles in the heart become too weak to pump blood. As a result, the heart becomes unable to supply enough blood to the body’s major organs. 

Arrhythmias: This condition can occur if there are structural changes to the heart that lead to an irregular heartbeat. Arrhythmias can lead to cardiac arrest, a potentially fatal complication.

Because of the seriousness of vascular complications, it is important to know if you are having a heart attack or experiencing heart failure. You may need to seek medical help immediately if you display the following symptoms: 

  • Chest pain, tightness, or pressure
  • Discomfort in the arms, back, jaw, neck, or upper abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating, indigestion, nausea, or vomiting
  • Quick or irregular heartbeat
  • Coughing up pink mucus
  • Swelling in the feet and ankles

Poor blood vessel health can also lead to eye problems. People with type 2 diabetes are at a heightened risk of glaucoma, cataracts, and retinopathy. This is because diabetes can damage the small blood vessels in and around the eyes, increasing the risk of vision impairment and blindness. [3]

Nerve Damage

When nerve damage occurs in people with diabetes, it is called diabetic neuropathy. The tiny blood vessels in the body keep the nerves functioning. When these blood vessels are damaged, the nerves will inevitably become damaged as well. Nerve damage in the stomach and intestines may cause poor bowel movements, leading to constipation or diarrhea. [4] Poor long-term blood sugar control can also lead to nerve damage in the penis for men, causing erectile dysfunction. [5]

a close look at a woman’s eyes

Other Major Complications

Type 2 diabetes symptoms can adversely affect the body’s defense and weaken the immune system. This can make it difficult to fight off infections. Nerve damage in the feet commonly makes it hard to detect cuts or sores. Without a strong immune system, an undetected and infected wound can spread. It is important for type 2 patients to have regular foot checkups to avoid complications like amputation. [2]

Treatment and Prevention 

As mentioned above, eating healthy foods and getting plenty of exercise are essential habits for type 2 management. As a guide, choose low-fat foods and high-fiber vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. For exercise, biking or running three times a week can significantly help with weight management and improve vascular health. [1] 

With the right treatment plan and lifestyle adjustments, type 2 diabetes is very manageable, even reversible. Type 2 diabetes can lead to some serious and severe complications, but the earlier this disease is addressed, the better chance you have of preventing medical emergencies. 

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.