Type 2 diabetes can cause complications, such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. To reduce risks, a person can regularly check their blood glucose, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and take medications.

Type 2 diabetes affects more than 30 million people in the United States. It is the most common form of diabetes and makes up 90–95% of diabetes cases.

In this article, we outline the complications of type 2 diabetes and how a person can lower their chances of developing these complications.

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Type 2 diabetes is a disease that prevents someone from properly regulating their blood glucose levels.

The pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which regulates the level of glucose in a person’s blood.

Insulin helps glucose present in the blood enter cells in the body. Cells use this glucose for energy. When a person’s blood glucose levels become too high, their pancreas releases more insulin to lower these levels.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that occurs when a person’s body does not use insulin effectively. Over time, a person’s body may also stop producing enough insulin. Some of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes are:

  • increased urination, especially at night
  • increased thirst
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • genital itching or thrush
  • slow wound healing
  • blurred vision
  • increased hunger

Below are some of the complications of type 2 diabetes.

Heart disease and stroke

High levels of blood glucose can damage the blood vessels and nerves that control the heart. This damage can cause a person to develop heart disease and can increase their chances of having a stroke.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), people with diabetes commonly develop heart disease at younger ages than people without diabetes.

The NIDDK also states that adults with diabetes are almost two times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without diabetes.

Nerve damage

High blood glucose levels can gradually damage a person’s nerves. Doctors refer to this condition as diabetic neuropathy.

Diabetic neuropathy can cause a person to experience numbness, tingling, and/or burning in their extremities.

The most common type of diabetic neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy. This is a type of nerve damage that mostly affects a person’s feet and legs. It may also affect their hands and arms.

Peripheral neuropathy can cause a person to develop blisters and sores on their feet. These wounds may be difficult to heal, which increases the risk of infections and amputations.

Kidney disease

High levels of glucose in a person’s blood can damage the blood vessels in their kidneys, leading to kidney disease.

Some factors that increase a person’s chances of developing kidney disease are:

  • having high blood pressure
  • smoking
  • not following an eating plan to manage diabetes
  • being physically inactive
  • being overweight
  • having heart disease

Foot problems

Diabetes can affect a person’s feet in several ways.

Nerve damage can cause the person to lose feeling in their feet. This can cause sores or infections to develop.

Diabetes can also lower the amount of blood that flows to the feet. This reduced blood flow can make it more difficult for sores and infections to heal. In some cases, bad infections may never heal. Long-term infections can cause gangrene.

If a person with diabetes has gangrene or foot ulcers that do not respond to treatment, they may require an amputation.

Nerve damage from diabetes may also cause the foot to change shape. This is a rare condition known as Charcot’s foot. It typically begins with redness, warmth, and swelling developing on the foot.

Eye disease

Diabetes may also cause diabetic eye diseases.

Short-term high blood glucose levels can alter the fluid levels or cause tissues to swell in the eyes. This can lead to blurred vision, which may go away when a person’s blood glucose levels return to normal.

Long-term high blood glucose levels can damage the blood vessels in the back of the eyes. This damage may cause swelling and leaking of fluid from the vessels.

Gum disease and other mouth problems

High blood glucose levels can increase glucose in the saliva and cause harmful bacteria to grow in the mouth. These bacteria can cause a person to develop mouth problems such as plaque, tooth decay, and gum disease.

Here are some symptoms of gum disease and other mouth problems that diabetes can cause:

  • sores
  • ulcers
  • dark spots or holes in the teeth
  • persistent pain in the mouth, jaw, or face
  • loose teeth
  • pain when chewing
  • change of taste
  • frequent bad taste in the mouth
  • persistent bad breath that does not go away after brushing teeth

Sexual and bladder problems

Nerve damage that diabetes causes can affect a person’s genitals or urinary tract, leading to a variety of bladder and sexual problems.

Males with diabetes are at an increased risk of the following sexual problems:

  • Erectile dysfunction. A person with erectile dysfunction will find it difficult to attain or keep an erection that is firm enough to have sex.
  • Retrograde ejaculation. This occurs when part or all of the semen goes into the bladder instead of out of the penis when a person ejaculates.
  • Peyronie’s disease. Peyronie’s disease causes the penis to bend abnormally when erect.
  • Low testosterone. Males with diabetes may have lower than average levels of testosterone.

Females with diabetes are at an increased risk of the following sexual problems:

  • Low sexual desire. Females with diabetes may experience a lower level of sexual desire.
  • Pain during sex. Diabetes can damage the nerves that cause the vagina to lubricate during stimulation. This can cause pain during sex.
  • Yeast infections. Yeast grows more easily when a person’s blood glucose levels are higher, which can lead to infections.

If a person closely manages their type 2 diabetes, they can reduce their risk of developing any complications.

Below are some steps a person can take to manage their type 2 diabetes:

  • Closely monitor blood glucose levels.
  • Try to maintain a moderate body weight.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid smoking or try to quit smoking.

There are many ways to treat type 2 diabetes.

Doctors may prescribe metformin to people with diabetes. Metformin is a drug that can lower blood glucose levels and increase the effectiveness of natural insulin.

Other medications for type 2 diabetes include:

  • sulfonylureas
  • glitazones
  • glinides
  • gliptins
  • gliflozins

People with type 2 diabetes can typically manage the condition with lifestyle changes and medications. However, some people will require insulin treatment if their diabetes does not respond to these medications.

Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. This means it becomes harder to manage over time.

A person may not need to take medication if they monitor their blood glucose levels closely and maintain a healthy lifestyle. These steps can also lower their risk of developing complications such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.

A person may also take diabetes medications or insulin to manage their blood glucose levels and reduce their risk of complications.

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease that causes a person’s blood glucose levels to rise too high. A person can manage their diabetes by regularly checking their blood glucose levels, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and taking medications.

If a person follows these steps, they can reduce their risk of developing certain complications, including heart disease, nerve damage, and mouth problems.