Understanding the Complications of Type 1 Diabetes

Complications Can Be Prevented

If you have type 1 diabetes, you already know that there is much to do daily to manage it well. It’s relatively easy to focus on the tasks at hand and lose sight of the potential short-term and long-term complications of diabetes. That is why knowing the possible risks of the condition are essential. 

type 1 diabetes complications
Brianna Gilmartin / Verywell

Short-term Complications

There are two primary short-term complications of type 1 diabetes that include:

  • Hypoglycemia: Low blood gluclose levels that drop dangerously beyond level, also called hypoglycemia, are a result of not eating enough and combined with taking too much insulin or exercising too much. If this condition is not treated quickly it can result in a medical emergency.
  • Hyperglycemia: Blood glucose levels that are too high are also called hyperglycemia. If prolonged, it could lead to a condition called ketoacidosis, which occurs when the body does not have enough insulin and uses stored body fat as an alternative source of fuel. This toxic state can lead to coma and possibly death.

Long-term Complications

Although there is still a lot we don’t fully understand about type 1 diabetes, one thing is certain: high blood sugar over the long-term puts you at greater risk for a number of health problems. These include long-term complications that could affect your:

  • Eyes: Diabetes puts you at greater risk for retinopathy, macular ederma, glaucoma, and cataracts.
  • Kidneys: High blood pressure, which is common in people with diabetes, increases the risk of kidney disease.
  • Heart and Blood Vessels: High cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels damage the heart and blood vessels leaving you susceptible to heart disease and stroke.
  • Feet: Nerve damage can cause a loss of sensation in your feet making you less aware of pain or discomfort. This may lead to injury such as a blister or more severe wound that is difficult to heal.
  • Teeth and Gums: High levels of glucose in your blood create a greater concentration of sugar in your saliva. This contributes to plaque build-up and gum disease.

What Can You Do?

The good news is that managing your diabetes well on a consistent basis can help delay or even prevent most, if not all, of these complications. Some of the most important research studies to date have shown that good glucose control over a long period of time is your best weapon against future health complications.

It’s simply having diabetes education and management skills and then sticking to it every day. The proper management of type 1 diabetes includes four main daily principles including:

  • Taking insulin as prescribed
  • Following a food plan
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Consistent glucose testing

Balancing your glucose levels with the first three is your daily challenge. Testing your blood regularly is your way of measuring your progress. But it’s important to realize that some days your glucose will be higher than others. The goal is to keep it in your target range as often as possible.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. EndocrineWeb. Type 1 Diabetes Complications.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Hyperglycemia (High Blood Sugar).

  3. The National Institute of Health. Diabetic Eye Disease.

  4. The National Institute of Health. Diabetic Kidney Disease.

  5. de Ferranti SD, de Boer IH, Fonseca V, et al. Type 1 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the american heart association and american diabetes association. Dia Care. 2014;37(10):2843-2863. doi. 10.2337/dc14-1720.

  6. American Diabetes Association. Foot Complications.

  7. The National Institute of Health. Diabetes, Gum Disease, & Other Dental Problems.

  8. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent Diabetes Complications.

  9. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes Education and Support.

  10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 10 Surprising Things That Can Spike Your Blood Sugar.

By Gary Gilles
Gary Gilles is a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) who has written about type 1 diabetes and served as a diabetes counselor. He began writing about diabetes after his son's diagnosis as an infant.