Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Diabetes is a condition where blood glucose levels become too high.

Diabetes is a condition where blood glucose levels become too high.
beginning of content

Complications of diabetes

7-minute read

Over time persistent high blood glucose levels (BGLs) can damage the body's organs. This damage is referred to as 'diabetes-related complications'. While these complications are serious and can be life-threatening, with appropriate lifestyle changes and attention to blood glucose control, people with diabetes can greatly reduce the risk of these complications.

Heart disease and stroke

People with diabetes are at increased risk of heart disease and stroke due to raised BGLs, in association with high blood pressure and cholesterol. You should discuss your individual risk factors and how to reduce them with your doctor or diabetes educator. In general terms, the risk of heart disease in diabetes can be reduced by:

For more information speak to your doctor or specialist or contact the Heart Foundation.

Are you at risk?

Find out if you're at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes or kidney disease using our Risk Checker.

High blood pressure

As well as being a risk factor for developing diabetes, high blood pressure can also be a complication of diabetes. Diabetes changes the body chemistry to increase the risk of high blood pressure. As having high blood pressure in diabetes further increases the risk of other complications like stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, eye disease and nerve damage, it is important that it is adequately monitored and, if necessary, controlled. You should get your blood pressure checked every time you go to the doctor, and at least:

  • every 6 months for people with normal blood pressure
  • 3 months for people with high blood pressure
  • every 4-8 weeks if your blood pressure medication is being changed


Damage to the small blood vessels and nerves common in people with diabetes can cause very dry skin. This can lead to small cracks in the skin. When you have dry skin, overwashing, excessively hot water, exposing your skin to the sun and not moisturising can make the problem worse. To help improve the condition of dry skin:

  • use warm water rather than hot water for washing
  • use a ph balanced soap or minimise the amount of soap you use
  • limit the time you spend bathing - don't linger as you are just washing the oils out of your skin
  • take a few extra minutes after your skin has been exposed to water and before bed, to moisturise your entire body with an intensive moisturising cream
  • seek medical advice promptly for skin damage that has become inflammed, painful or is leaking fluid

Legs and feet

Diabetes can cause nerve damage and poor blood supply from damaged blood vessels which may lead to ongoing pain, leg ulcers and serious foot problems from which lower limb amputation may result. 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. Act quickly if your think you have a problem with your feet.

To protect your feet:

  • have your feet checked at least once a year by your doctor or other health professional
  • wash, dry and check your feet every day. Check for redness, swelling, cuts, fluid discharge, splinters or blisters, being especially careful to look between toes, around heels and nail edges and at the soles of the feet. See a doctor if you notice an ulcer, unusual swelling, redness, blisters, ingrown nail, bruising or cuts
  • cut your toenails straight across
  • moisturise your feet daily to avoid dry skin
  • never use over-the-counter corn cures
  • cover your feet with a clean sock or stocking without rough seams
  • don’t wear tight socks or stockings
  • protect your feet in a shoe which fits well
  • keep your feet away from direct heat such as heaters, hot water bottles and electric blankets
  • get medical advice early if you notice any change or problem

My feet and diabetes - video

Eyes, nose and mouth

Your nerves control the glands that keep the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose and mouth moist and healthy. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly attacks the beta cells in the pancreas and may also attack other parts of the body including the mucous membranes which can cause problems.

If you suffer from:

  • dry eyes, use artificial tears and a prescribed eye cream in the evening
  • a dry nose, try a saline nasal spray which will make your nose more comfortable
  • a dry mouth, you may find that artificial saliva (a product available at pharmacies which can be used orally to substitute for natural saliva), simply rinsing your mouth or chewing diet gum will help to keep your saliva flowing. Diet gums usually contains sweeteners that aren't absorbed by the body so it doesn't affect blood glucose levels or body weight. However, if used excessively, the non-absorbed sugars ferment in the gut and can cause gas and diarrhoea, so these products should be used in moderation

Dry membranes are not just uncomfortable; they can also lead to long-term changes in the eyes, nose and mouth which can cause further damage to these sensitive membranes.

If you are having problems with dryness to the eyes, nose or mouth, talk to your doctor who can offer further advice.

Dental care

People with poorly controlled diabetes have a higher risk of tooth problems and gum disease. It is important to pay particular attention to your oral health and control your blood glucose levels. Visit your dentist regularly for advice about how to keep your teeth and gums healthy.


Diabetic retinopathy (damage to the back of the eye) is the leading cause of blindness in Australians aged under 60. Diabetes can also cause cataracts and other eye problems. The development of retinopathy is strongly related to the length of time diabetes has been present, regardless of the type of diabetes you have, your age, or even the control you have over your blood-glucose levels. Regular checks and treatment can prevent blindness.

To look after your eyes and help prevent vision loss:

  • have your eyes checked regularly, at least every two years, to pick up early signs of damage
  • control your blood glucose levels
  • maintain a healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • if your vision has been affected, seek treatment from your doctor to stop it from getting worse

Bladder and kidneys

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 which causes them to leak protein into the urine. You won't notice damage to your kidneys until it's quite advanced, so it is important you have the recommended tests to pick up any problems early. Annual kidney health checks are recommended.

People with diabetes are at risk of bladder and kidney infections; however, maintaining good blood glucose control and keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level will reduce this risk. For women, in particular, it is also important to ensure the bladder is fully emptied, especially after sexual intercourse.

Mental health

Up to 50% of people with diabetes are thought to have a mental illness such as depression or anxiety. Diabetes more than doubles the risk of depression. People with diabetes and depression may have increased risk of other complications from diabetes, as they may find it harder to manage everyday tasks, and their diabetes may become neglected.

If there are concerns about a person with diabetes developing mental health issues, it is important they discuss this with their doctor and seek help. Sane Australia have also developed a booklet on depression and mental illness specifically for people with diabetes.


Both men and women with diabetes may lose their sexual desire when their blood glucose levels are high. Men with diabetes are at a higher risk of erectile dysfunction, or impotence, especially if their diabetes is not well controlled. Men who notice a change in sexual functioning should consult their doctor to determine the cause and discuss treatment options.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2018

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Diabetes | Vision Initiative

Information on the link between diabetes and eye health

Read more on Vision Initiative website

Understanding diabetes | Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute

This fact sheet will help you understand what diabetes is, the risk factors for type 2 diabetes and the health benefits of controlling your blood glucose levels.

Read more on Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute website

Why follow a Low GI Diet? - Glycemic Index Foundation

Find out why following a low GI diet is so good for you. It is an easy way to ensure you are ticking the healthy eating box.

Read more on Glycemic Index Foundation website

Soft drinks could be linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease

Report reveals Australian soft drinks have higher levels of glucose that could be linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease

Read more on Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute website

Complications of diabetes type 2 | Diabetes NSW & ACT

If left undiagnosed or unchecked for too long, complications of diabetes type 2 can become serious & life threatening. Find out how you can reduce your risk

Read more on Diabetes NSW and ACT website

Type 1 diabetes complications | Diabetes NSW & ACT

The complications of type 1 diabetes can be serious, but can be substantially reduced if you pay attention to your blood glucose control. Find out more

Read more on Diabetes NSW and ACT website

Diabetes - long-term effects - Better Health Channel

The risk of most diabetes-related complications can be reduced.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Foot complications – what to look for and how to avoid - Diabetes NSW & ACT

Numb or cold feet, pins and needles, a burning sensation or dry skin can all be signs that diabetes is affecting your feet.

Read more on Diabetes NSW and ACT website

Diabetic nephropathy: symptoms, causes and treatment

Diabetic nephropathy (diabetic kidney disease) is kidney damage that results from having diabetes. Find out how to reduce your risk of developing this diabetes complication.

Read more on myDr website

Gestational diabetes

Gestational Diabetes Gestational diabetes mellitus (sometimes referred to as GDM) is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy

Read more on Diabetes Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo