A graphic of a blue arm outstretched and taking a diabetic blood sample from the pointed index finger

Diabetes Series: Complications and Prevention

Part I: Diabetes Complications & Prevention

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government of Canada marked the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin by hosting the Global Diabetes Summit. The focus: reduce the prevalence of diabetes and help those living with it to better manage their disease.

Globally, approximately 422 million people live with diabetes. Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, occurring mostly in adults as a result of a resistance to or underproduction of insulin.

Diabetes has no cure and long-term, can have major and far-reaching impacts on patient health. The good news, however, is that diabetes and its consequences can be managed.

In Part I of our blog series about diabetes, we explore the major complications of the disease and the many roads to prevention and management.

Photo Credit: Report of the Global Diabetes Summit


Complications of diabetes can be grouped into two categories: acute or chronic.


Acute complications are diabetes-related issues that can happen at any time. They include:

  • Hypoglycemia (‘hypo’ for short): when a patient’s blood sugar is too low because of a missed meal, improperly calculated carbohydrates at a meal, overexercising, taking too much insulin, or drinking alcohol on an empty stomach
  • Hyperglycemia (also called ‘hypers’): when a patient’s blood sugar is too high as a result of eating too many carbohydrates, missing a medication dose, or even stress
  • Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State (HHS): an emergency caused by severe dehydration and extreme hyperglycemia
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA): another life-threatening emergency for diabetics caused by a build-up of ketones (acidic byproduct of fat burnt for energy) in the blood. This can result for many reasons, but is ultimately caused by a lack of insulin and high blood sugar


Chronic complications result generally from long-term mismanaged blood glucose levels (regular acute issues).

Chronically high blood sugar affects all the body’s blood vessels, causing potential harm to the heart, eyes, bowels/stomach, kidneys, sexual organs, brain, nerves, and feet. As a result, diabetes is “a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.”

Thankfully, complications are not an inevitable part of living with diabetes.

Photo Credit: WHO


Today, diabetes can be effectively treated through a combination of diet, physical activity, and medication.

General advice for managing diabetes includes:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Stay active, aiming for 30 minutes a day
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Manage blood glucose levels (through food portioning and medication)
  • Avoid tobacco use

Crucial to avoiding more severe consequences of diabetes is the regular screening for complications. For this, diabetes patients should:

It is important to remember that socioeconomic factors affect the access to and quality of diabetic care and treatment. WHO highlights foot care as both a cost-saving and feasible intervention for all diabetic patients. But more on diabetic feet and how Stepscan can contribute to better patient outcomes in Part II.

From this first part, what information, was new for you? Are you a healthcare professional who regularly interacts with diabetics? How do you help your diabetes patients manage the various complications of their disease? Let me know in a comment below.

Take some time to read the additional resources below and stay tuned for Part II: Diabetic Foot Care.

Additional Reading & Resources

About Crystal Trevors

Crystal is the founder and owner of Stepscan Technologies Inc. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of New Brunswick, a Master of Science in Biology from the University of Prince Edward Island, and a Master in Business Administration from the University of Guelph. Her business and research interests include corporate performance management and reporting, process improvement and operational efficiencies. Operating Stepscan is a dream come true for her, allowing her to combine her love of biology, research and business, every day.

Leave a Comment