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How it harms the body, head to toe. See for yourself.
Reviewed 7/5/2021

How diabetes damages the body

Diabetes can take a toll on health.

The good news: People can avoid or delay many of the harmful effects of diabetes by managing their blood sugar, blood pressure and other conditions.

The risks are real.

See the damage done head to toe.


People with diabetes often have high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke.


Over time, high blood pressure and high glucose levels can damage the blood vessels in the eyes. This eye disease (called diabetic retinopathy) can lead to blindness.


Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to mouth problems like infection and gum disease.


People with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease, which can cause heart attack and heart failure.

Digestive tract

Diabetes-related nerve damage can cause sluggish digestion. This can lead to pain, nausea and vomiting, and affect blood sugar levels.


Over time, diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys. This can cause kidney disease.

Sexual function

For men, nerve and blood vessel damage can lead to erectile dysfunction. In women, diabetes can contribute to vaginal dryness and reduced pleasure.


Poor circulation can lead to peripheral arterial disease, which slows wound healing and raises the risk for foot ulcers, infection and amputation.


Nerve damage can lead to pain or numbness that makes it hard to feel blisters or cuts. Because diabetes can impair blood flow, these wounds may heal slowly or become infected.


Get regular checkups to avoid or delay complications of diabetes.


Sources: American Diabetes Association; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; UpToDate

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