Beyond Blood Sugar: The Lesser-Known Complications of Diabetes

Beyond Blood Sugar: Understanding the Lesser-Known Complications of Diabetes

October 2, 2023

Key Facts


  •  Total: 37.3 million people have diabetes (11.3% of the US population)
  •  Undiagnosed: 8.5 million people (23.0% of adults are undiagnosed)


  • Total: 96 million people aged 18 years or older have prediabetes (38.0% of the adult US population)
  • After almost 2 decades of continual increases, the incidence of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes in the United States decreased from 9.3 per 1,000 adults in 2009 to 5.9 per 1,000 adults in 2019.1
  • Native American or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic Asian people are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic White people (14.5%, 12.1%, 11.8%, 9.5%, and 7.4%, respectively).1

Welcome to another article where we explore crucial aspects of diabetes management and provide valuable insights to help you lead a healthier life. Today, we’re delving into a topic that often doesn’t get the attention it deserves: the lesser-known complications of diabetes.

At our clinic, we understand the importance of comprehensive diabetes care, which goes beyond just managing blood sugar levels. As a leading diabetes doctor in Jacksonville, we’re committed to ensuring that you’re well-informed about the potential complications associated with diabetes. Knowledge is your most powerful tool in the fight against this chronic condition.

Why Understanding Complications Matters

Diabetes, whether Type 1 or Type 2, affects millions of lives worldwide. While most people are aware of the common complications such as cardiovascular issues, neuropathy, and retinopathy, there are lesser-known complications that can significantly impact your quality of life. Recognizing these complications and understanding their warning signs is essential for maintaining your health and well-being. So, let’s dive into this important topic and shed light on the lesser-known aspects of diabetes that demand your attention.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, often referred to as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune condition that typically manifests in childhood or early adulthood. Unlike Type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with lifestyle factors, Type 1 diabetes has a different underlying cause.

The primary cause of Type 1 diabetes is the immune system’s misguided attack on the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This autoimmune response results in the destruction of these crucial cells, leading to a deficiency of insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels.

People with Type 1 diabetes rely on external insulin sources to survive because their bodies no longer produce it. This usually involves daily insulin injections or using insulin pumps that deliver precise doses. Proper management of insulin is crucial to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range.

Living with Type 1 diabetes presents unique challenges. Patients must monitor their blood sugar levels regularly, adjust insulin doses, and carefully manage their diet and exercise. The goal is to maintain stable blood sugar levels to prevent both immediate complications (hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia) and long-term complications, such as cardiovascular disease and kidney problems.

Diabetes patient making an abdominal insulin injection

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of diabetes and is often associated with lifestyle factors, although genetics also play a role. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, where the body does not produce insulin, Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance. In this condition, the body’s cells do not respond effectively to insulin, causing blood sugar levels to rise.

Several factors contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes. Genetics can increase the risk, but lifestyle choices such as an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, and obesity are significant risk factors. Insulin resistance is at the core of Type 2 diabetes, making it difficult for the body to use insulin efficiently.

Managing Type 2 diabetes often begins with lifestyle changes. This includes adopting a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight. In some cases, oral medications or insulin therapy may be necessary to regulate blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes management can be challenging due to its association with other health issues like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Additionally, it tends to progress over time, requiring adjustments in treatment plans. Lifestyle modifications, along with medications if needed, are crucial to prevent complications and improve overall well-being.

Understanding these fundamental differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is essential for effective diabetes management and prevention of complications.

Common Complications of Diabetes

While both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have their unique characteristics, they share many common complications. These complications can be serious and, in some cases, life-threatening. It’s crucial to be aware of these risks and take proactive steps to manage them. Here are some of the most prevalent complications:

  • Cardiovascular Complications
  • Neuropathic Complications
  • Retinopathic Complications

Diabetes significantly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Elevated blood sugar levels over time can damage blood vessels and nerves that control the heart and blood vessels’ functioning. Common cardiovascular complications include:

Atherosclerosis: A buildup of plaque in the arteries, narrowing them and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): Diabetes is often associated with high blood pressure, which further strains the cardiovascular system.

Nerve damage, known as neuropathy, is a common complication of diabetes. It can affect various parts of the body and lead to symptoms such as tingling, numbness, and pain. The types of neuropathy associated with diabetes include:

Diabetic Neuropathy: Affecting the peripheral nerves, diabetic neuropathy can lead to problems with sensation, coordination, and muscle strength.

Autonomic Neuropathy: This type of neuropathy affects the nerves that control involuntary bodily functions, leading to issues with digestion, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Radiculopathy: Nerve root damage can cause radiating pain in the arms and legs.

Diabetes can also affect the eyes, leading to diabetic retinopathy, which is a leading cause of blindness among adults. It damages the blood vessels in the retina and can result in vision impairment. Other eye-related complications include:

Cataracts: People with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing cataracts, which cloud the eye’s lens and cause vision problems.

Glaucoma: Elevated eye pressure due to diabetes can lead to glaucoma, a condition that damages the optic nerve and can result in vision loss.

“Those who have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find the time for illness.”

Lesser-Known Complications of Diabetes

Beyond the well-known complications like cardiovascular issues, neuropathy, and retinopathy, there are several lesser-known complications of diabetes that can significantly affect your quality of life. These complications often don’t receive the attention they deserve, but they are no less important. Let’s shine a light on these lesser-known aspects of diabetes:

  • Skin Complications
  • Dental Complications
  • Hearing Loss
  • Sleep Disorders

Diabetic Dermopathy: This condition presents as light brown, scaly patches on the skin, often on the shins. While it doesn’t usually cause discomfort, it can be a cosmetic concern.

Diabetic Blisters (Bullosis Diabeticorum): Rare but distinctive, these blisters can occur on the hands, feet, legs, or forearms. They usually heal on their own but should be monitored for infection.

Digital Sclerosis: Diabetes can cause thickening of the skin on the fingers and toes, making them tight and waxy. This can limit joint mobility.

Gum Disease (Periodontitis): Diabetes increases the risk of gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss if left untreated. Regular dental check-ups and good oral hygiene are crucial.

Tooth Decay: Elevated blood sugar levels can lead to more bacteria in the mouth, increasing the risk of cavities and tooth decay.

Xerostomia (Dry Mouth): People with diabetes may experience dry mouth due to reduced saliva production, which can contribute to dental issues and discomfort.

Connection to Diabetes: Studies suggest a link between diabetes and an increased risk of hearing loss, particularly in older adults. The exact mechanism is still being studied.

Risk Factors and Prevention: Managing diabetes well through blood sugar control, along with regular hearing check-ups, can help mitigate the risk of hearing loss.

Sleep Apnea: Diabetes is associated with an elevated risk of sleep apnea, a condition where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Sleep apnea can further complicate diabetes management.

Restless Legs Syndrome: This condition causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, often disrupting sleep. It can be more common in individuals with diabetes.

Insomnia: Diabetes-related stress, discomfort, or blood sugar fluctuations can contribute to insomnia, affecting overall well-being.

Bowl of salmon, veggies and rice

The Role of Lifestyle: Prevention & Management

Nourishing Your Heart with Diet
When it comes to hypertension, the choices you make in the kitchen have a significant impact. A heart-healthy diet plays a pivotal role in both prevention and management. Opt for whole grains, lean proteins, an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats like those found in nuts and olive oil. These dietary choices can help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and maintain balanced blood pressure levels.

Active Living: Exercise and Its Benefits
Physical activity isn’t just beneficial for overall well-being; it’s a cornerstone in the battle against hypertension. Engaging in regular exercise enhances cardiovascular fitness and strengthens the heart muscle. Aerobic activities like brisk walking, jogging, or swimming, along with strength training exercises, promote healthy blood circulation and contribute to more controlled blood pressure.

Stress Reduction and Its Effect on Blood Pressure
Your mental well-being is intricately connected to your physical health, particularly when it comes to blood pressure. Chronic stress can contribute to elevated blood pressure levels over time. Thus, stress reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga can have a direct positive impact on your blood pressure. By managing stress, you’re not only promoting mental tranquility but also nurturing cardiovascular health.

Prevention and Management Strategies

Preventing and managing the lesser-known complications of diabetes requires a proactive approach to your health. Here are some strategies to help you stay on top of your diabetes care and reduce the risk of these complications:

Regular Medical Check-ups

  • Consistent monitoring of your diabetes is essential. Schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider, including eye exams, dental check-ups, and hearing assessments.

Blood Sugar Management

  • Maintain tight control over your blood sugar levels. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for insulin or oral medications, and monitor your blood sugar as advised.
  • Keep a log of your blood sugar readings, meals, and physical activity to identify patterns and make necessary adjustments.

Lifestyle Modifications

  • Adopt a balanced diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Minimize sugar and processed foods in your diet.
  • Engage in regular physical activity. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight, as weight management can help improve blood sugar control.
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption.

Dental and Eye Care

  • Follow good oral hygiene practices, including regular brushing and flossing.
  • Schedule dental check-ups at least twice a year.
  • Visit an eye specialist annually to monitor for diabetic retinopathy and other eye-related complications.

Hearing and Sleep Assessments

  • If you experience hearing difficulties, seek a hearing assessment from a qualified audiologist.
  • If you suspect sleep disturbances, such as snoring, excessive daytime fatigue, or difficulty staying asleep, consult a sleep specialist for evaluation and treatment options.

Stress Management

  • Chronic stress can affect blood sugar levels and overall health. Implement stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness, meditation, or yoga to manage stress effectively.

Medication Adherence

  • If your healthcare provider prescribes medications for managing diabetes or its complications, adhere to the recommended treatment plan diligently.

By integrating these prevention and management strategies into your daily routine, you can significantly reduce the risk of experiencing lesser-known complications associated with diabetes. Remember that knowledge and proactive care are your most powerful allies in your journey to maintain good health and a high quality of life while managing diabetes.

Remember that you are not alone on this journey. With the right knowledge, support, and a commitment to your health, you can navigate the complexities of diabetes and enjoy a high quality of life. Stay informed, stay proactive, and prioritize your well-being. Your health is your greatest asset, and with the right approach, you can thrive despite diabetes.


For further information and support on managing diabetes and its complications, we recommend exploring the following reputable resources and organizations:

  1. American Diabetes Association (ADA) – The ADA offers comprehensive information on diabetes, its complications, and a wealth of resources for individuals living with diabetes.
  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) – NIDDK provides research-based insights into diabetes, its complications, and treatment options.
  3. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) – AACE is a valuable resource for individuals seeking information on diabetes care, including finding an endocrinologist near you.
  4. American Dental Association (ADA) – The ADA offers guidance on oral health care and the prevention of dental complications associated with diabetes.
  5. American Academy of Audiology – For information on hearing health and assessments, the American Academy of Audiology provides valuable resources.
  6. National Sleep Foundation – Explore the National Sleep Foundation’s website for insights into sleep disorders and tips for improving sleep quality.

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