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Diabetes Complications

One Place For Diabetes Care

With direct access to leading experts across many specialties, our endocrinologists are able coordinate timely, multifaceted care for all complications that can result from diabetes.

While the day-to-day management of each type of diabetes can be very different, the risks and the impact of elevated blood glucose are shared by people regardless of the type of diabetes they have.

High blood glucose has a damaging effect on the thin layer of endothelial cells that line the inside of the blood vessels. When endothelial cells are damaged, the circulatory systems start to break down. High blood glucose can also damage nerves and weaken the nervous system. Damage to these two body systems can result in many serious, painful and life-threatening complications.

Complications that can arise over time from elevated blood sugar levels:

Diabetic kidney disease

Illustration of a human kidney.

Develops slowly over many years. High blood sugar inhibits kidneys from properly filtering waste from the blood. This results in a leakage of albumin (blood protein) which eventually leads to kidney dysfunction, high blood pressure and possibly, kidney failure.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease in the U.S. See how our kidney specialists work with you to prevent and slow kidney disease.

Foot complications

Illustration of human feet.

Over time, nerve damage in the feet can occur as a result of high blood sugar. High blood sugar can also slow the healing process and change the skin and shape of your feet and toes. Loss of feeling in the feet can lead to an infection or deadly foot ulcers that may go unnoticed until amputation becomes necessary. Nearly 70 percent of people with diabetes develop some form of neuropathy.

Diabetic retinopathy

Illustration of an eye.

High blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the eyes, causing them to leak and swell. The development of abnormal blood vessels on the retina may also occur. Initially, this may cause only minor vision changes. But over time, this can lead to permanent vision loss in both eyes.

Diabetic retinopathy is currently the leading cause of blindness in the U.S.

At UC San Diego Shiley Eye Center, people with diabetic retinopathy benefit from the latest advances in diagnostic equipment and therapies to preserve vision.

Mental health

Illustration of a brain and head.

Diabetes management can be highly stressful and increases your risk for depression. If you have depression prior to diabetes diagnosis, you may find that the disease aggravates existing symptoms.

It’s important that you manage anxiety and feelings of depression, as these factors can negatively impact your quality of life and ability to manage blood glucose levels. Our psychiatry and behavioral health team includes specialists dedicated to the mental and emotional health issues that arise from living with chronic disease. Learn more.


Illustration of a human skeleton.

Elevated blood sugar can cause bone density decline, which increases risk for debilitating, painful fractures.

Osteoporosis typically doesn’t show any signs in the early stages. Signs that may appear later include a stooped posture and/or height loss.

Learn about bone health including what you can do to prevent osteoporosis and how the experts at UC San Diego treat it.

Skin complications

3D illustration of human skin.

In some cases, the first sign of high blood sugar is skin problems. These include bacterial or fungal infections, itching, blisters and acanthosis nigricans.

If diabetes damages small blood vessels, diabetic dermopathy (light brown, scaly patches) can occur.

Our dermatological team provides treatment for the most complex diabetes-related skin conditions. Learn more.

Cardiovascular disease

Illustration of a human heart.

Elevated blood sugar can lead to blood clots that obstruct the coronary arteries. Blockage can cause a heart attack and even death.

High blood sugar combined with other heart risk factors like high blood pressure, can damage the heart, requiring the heart to work harder than normal. Over time, this can result in heart failure.

Our cardiovascular center is part of the only academic health system in San Diego, and is actively involved in research that helps set standards in cardiac care. See Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center.

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