The biggest problem for people with diabetes is heart and blood vessel disease. Heart and blood vessel disease can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. It also causes poor blood flow (circulation) in the legs and feet.

To check for heart and blood vessel disease, the doctor will do some tests. Once a year, you should have an EKG (electrocardiogram) to check your heart and a blood test (called a cholesterol test) to check how much fat is in your blood vessels. The doctor should take your blood pressure at every visit. The doctor may also check pulse rates in your feet and legs to see if you have good circulation.

The best way to prevent heart and blood vessel disease is to take good care of yourself and your diabetes. Other ways to prevent this disease are:

  1. Eat foods that are low in fat and salt.

  2. Take your high blood pressure medicine.

  3. Don't smoke.

  4. Get regular exercise.

  5. Lose weight, if you need to.

  6. Limit your drinking of beer, wine, or other alcohol.


Diabetes is the main cause of blindness in adults in the United States. You should have your eyes checked once a year. You may have eye problems and not know it. Treating eye problems early can help prevent blindness.

High blood sugar can cause the blood vessels in the eyes to bleed. This bleeding can lead to blindness. You can help prevent eye damage by keeping your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. If your eyes are already damaged, an eye doctor may be able to save your sight with laser treatments or surgery.

The best way to stop eye disease is to have a yearly eye exam. In this exam, the doctor or nurse puts drops in your eyes to make your pupils get bigger (dilate). This is called a "dilated eye exam." The drops make the pupils big so that the doctor can see into the back of the eye. The exam does not hurt. If you have never had an eye exam like this, you should have one now. Do this even if you have no trouble with your eyes.

Here are some other rules for taking care of your eyes:

  1. For people with insulin-dependent diabetes: Have your eyes examined when you have had diabetes for 5 years and every year after that first eye exam. (Children should have an eye exam in their early teens).

  2. For people who got diabetes as an adult: Have an eye exam right away and then once a year after the first eye exam.

  3. For women planning to have a baby: Have an eye exam before becoming pregnant.

Tell your doctor right away if you have any problems with your eyes. These problems include blurry sight or seeing dark spots, flashing lights, or rings around lights.

See your eye doctor for an eye exam with dilated pupils every year. Early treatment of eye problems can help save your sight.


Your kidneys help clean waste products from your blood. They also work to keep the right balance of salt and fluid in your body.

Too much sugar in your blood is very hard on your kidneys. After a number of years, high blood sugar can cause the kidneys to stop working. This condition is called kidney failure. Diabetes is the main cause of kidney failure.

Your doctor should test your urine once a year for signs of kidney damage. A blood pressure medicine (called an ACE inhibitor) can help prevent kidney damage. Ask your doctor if this medicine might help you. Other ways to help prevent kidney problems:

  1. Take your high blood pressure medicine.

  2. Ask your doctor or your dietitian if you should eat less meat, eggs, cheese, milk, and fish.

  3. See your doctor right away if you get a bladder or kidney infection. Signs of bladder or kidney infections are cloudy or bloody urine, pain or burning when you urinate, and having to urinate often or in a hurry. Back pain, chills, and fever are also signs of kidney infection.


Over time, high blood sugar can harm the nerves in your body. Nerve damage from diabetes can cause you to lose feeling in your feet or have painful, burning feet. It can cause pain in your legs, arms, or hands. Nerve damage can also cause problems with eating, going to the bathroom, or having sex.

Damage to nerves can happen slowly. You may not even realize you have nerve problems because you can't always feel them. Your doctor should check your nerves once a year. Part of this exam should include tests to check your sense of feeling and the pulses in your feet.

Tell the doctor about any problems with your feet, legs, hands, or arms. Tell the doctor if you have trouble eating, going to the bathroom, having sex, or if you feel dizzy sometimes. Don't smoke. Smoking makes poor circulation worse. Poor circulation can make foot problems worse.

Nerve damage to the feet is a main cause of amputations in people with diabetes. You may not feel pain from injuries or sore spots on your feet. If you have poor circulation because of blood vessel problems in your legs, the sores on your feet can't heal and might become infected. If the infection is not treated, it could lead to amputation. To help prevent nerve damage, check your feet every day.


There's a lot you can do to prevent problems with your feet. Keeping your blood sugar in good control and taking care of your feet can help protect them.

  1. Check your bare feet every day. Look for cuts, sores, bumps, red spots. Use a mirror or ask a family member for help if you have trouble seeing the bottoms of your feet.

  2. Wash your feet in warm--not hot--water every day. Use a mild soap. Do not soak your feet. Dry your feet with a soft towel. Dry between your toes.

  3. Cover your feet with a lotion or petroleum jelly after washing them, before putting on your shoes and socks. Do not put the lotion or jelly between your toes.

  4. Cut your toenails straight across. Do not leave sharp edges that could cut the next toe.

  5. Use a dry towel to rub away dead skin.

  6. Do not try to cut calluses or corns yourself with a razor blade or knife. Do not use wart removers on your feet. If you have warts or painful corns or calluses, see a doctor who treats foot problems. This kind of doctor is called a podiatrist.

  7. Wear thick, soft socks. Do not wear mended stockings or stockings with holes or seams that might rub into your feet.

  8. Check your shoes before you put them on to be sure they have no sharp edges or objects in them.

  9. Wear shoes that fit well and let your toes move. Break in new shoes slowly. Do not wear flip-flops, shoes with pointed toes, or plastic shoes. Never go barefoot.

  10. Wear socks if your feet are cold at night. Do not use heating pads or hot water bottles on your feet.

  11. Have your doctor check your bare feet at every visit. Take off your shoes and socks when you go in the exam room. This will remind the doctor to check your feet.

  12. See a podiatrist for help if you can't take care of your feet yourself.


Gums & Teeth

Diabetes can lead to infections of the gums and bones that hold your teeth in place. Like all infections, gum infections can cause blood sugar to rise, making the problem worse. Without treatment, teeth may become loose and fall out.

To help prevent damage to your gums and teeth:

  1. See your dentist twice a year. Tell your dentist that you have diabetes.

  2. Brush and floss your teeth twice a day.

Keeping your blood sugar in a good range, daily brushing and flossing of teeth, and regular dental checkups are the best ways to prevent gum and teeth problems when you have diabetes.

This information was provided by The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. This material is not copyrighted, and can be used, and is encouraged for public use.


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