Diabetes Head to Toe: All the Parts of Your Body to Take Care of

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By : dLife Editors

High blood sugar levels can damage all parts of your body. In this post, we’ll guide you through all the parts of your body, head to toe that can be potentially affected by diabetes.

Learn about diabetes complications and what you can do to stay healthy, and be sure to discuss any questions or concerns with your doctor or diabetes care team.

Cognitive Issues


Several studies have shown that big swings in blood sugar — too high and too low — interfere with how our brain works. Diabetes can affect our memory and how we think. And over time, low blood sugar episodes may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

What Can You Do?

Daily diabetes care is the best prevention there is. In addition:

  • Eat healthily! Choose a healthy diet to help you maintain the best blood sugar control.
  • Always take your medicines as prescribed.
  • Get active! Being active can improve how your body makes use of blood sugar and insulin.
  • Lower your stress level. It can make your quality of life higher and your blood sugars lower.
  • Brainstorm! Literally. It’s just as important to exercise your mind as it is your body. Keep things moving up there by doing the crossword puzzle or Sudoku in your daily newspaper; play along with your nighttime Jeopardy, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, or Family Feud reruns; or pick up a controller and try out the latest video games.

Skin Problems

Women's hands with pink manicure applying cream. The concept of skin care.

The skin is the largest organ of your body. There are many skin conditions associated with diabetes, but the most common condition is simply dry skin.

Blood vessel and nerve damage, along with dehydration from high blood sugars, can cause dry skin. And dry, cracked skin can be a breeding ground for infection.

What Can You Do?

These tips can help keep your skin healthy.

  • Keep your blood sugar under control.
  • Stay moisturized both inside and out. Drink plenty of water and use mild soaps and other gentle skincare products.
  • Eat a nutritious, balanced diet and exercise regularly. Healthy fluid intake can keep you hydrated, while physical activity gets the blood flowing and can affect the appearance of your skin.
  • Always wear sunscreen, as some diabetes medicines can cause sensitivity to sunlight.
  • Protect your skin from extreme temperatures. If you have nerve damage, avoid electric blankets, hot baths, and heating pads.
  • If you get a cut or abrasion, clean and cover it. If it doesn’t improve in a few days, see your doctor.

Vision Complications

Make-up beautiful young woman's blue eyes. Beauty concept.

Diabetic retinopathy happens when the blood vessels in the retina of the eye become damaged. Other eye problems related to diabetes include macular edema, glaucoma, and cataracts.

What Can You Do?

In addition to being consistent with your diabetes management, here are some more tips:

  • Early diagnosis is important to prevent blindness. Get a dilated eye exam at least once a year to detect signs of early eye disease.
  • Controlling blood pressure, keeping your A1C levels down, quitting smoking, and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels can help to lower your risk of eye disease.
  • If you develop diabetic eye problems, talk to your doctor about medical options such as laser surgery and vitrectomy to see if they might be right for you.

Teeth and Gum Issues

Closeup of smiling teeth of a black man

People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing mouth infections. Chronic high blood sugar levels can cause dental problems such as gum disease, dry mouth, halitosis, mouth infections, and even cavities.

What Can You Do?

Take care of your diabetes daily, and also:

  • Keep your teeth and gums healthy by following a regular routine of brushing, flossing, and rinsing at least twice a day.
  • If you wear dentures, keep them clean.
  • Visit your dentist every six months to help prevent problems from happening (and make sure your dentist knows you have diabetes).
  • Quit smoking, as it can make gum disease worse, among other things.
  • Check your mouth regularly for problems, such as bleeding gums, bad tastes in the mouth, white patches, and dryness or soreness. Tell your dentist if you experience any of these issues or others.

Muscles and Bones


The musculoskeletal system is made up of the bones, muscles, joints, and tissues in and around the joints. Over time, high blood sugar can cause problems such as carpal tunnel, Charcot foot, stiff hands, frozen shoulder, and trigger finger.

What Can You Do?

  • Be consistent in your diabetes management and:
  • Keep your blood sugar levels in control.
  • Visit your doctor regularly.
  • If you experience any problems with your bones, muscles, and joints, visit a physical therapist, PT. A PT can play a vital role in treating a variety of diabetes complications.

Peripheral Neuropathy


Peripheral neuropathy, or PN, is nerve damage in the hands, feet, arms, and legs. PN can cause a wide range of symptoms, from tingling and numbness to muscle weakness to painful burning.

PN can also increase sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.

What Can You Do?

  • Peripheral neuropathy is one of the few diabetic complications that can actually reverse itself with good blood sugar management.
  • In addition: See a podiatrist regularly.
  • Check your feet every day.
  • Keep control of your blood sugar levels.
  • Control blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Keep a lookout for symptoms related to peripheral neuropathy such as muscle weakness, painful cramps, uncontrolled muscle twitching, and changes in the skin, hair, and nails.

Autonomic Neuropathy

The autonomic nervous system controls the involuntary functions of the body, such as heart rate, blood pressure, bladder function, digestion, salivation, and perspiration. Autonomic neuropathy can cause incontinence, dizziness, diarrhea, constipation, heart problems, and excessive perspiration.

What Can You Do?

To prevent autonomic neuropathy: Control your blood sugar levels, as this is the best defense against all complications. If you are on medicine, take it consistently. Eat a nutritious, balanced diet and exercise regularly. Treatment depends on the condition and the symptoms experienced.

Cardiovascular Complications


Do you know the leading cause of death among people with diabetes? Heart disease. There are several types of cardiovascular complications:

  • Atherosclerosis narrows the arteries from high cholesterol and can lead to coronary artery disease, CAD.
  • Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure.
  • Peripheral vascular disease, PVD, is a narrowing of the arteries outside the heart and brain.
  • Stroke is caused by blockage of the blood vessels or arteries that lead to the brain.
  • Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy, CAN, is the result of nerve damage to the cardiovascular system.
  • Peripheral arterial disease, PAD, is a hardening of the arteries that prevents proper blood flow.

What Can You Do?

Take good care of your diabetes and keep your A1C on target. And because cholesterol can clog arteries with fat deposits, it’s important to keep those levels on target too. Lastly, be sure to visit your doctor regularly for routine checks.

Kidney Problems


Want to know what the number one cause of chronic kidney failure is in the U.S.? Diabetes. Early kidney disease doesn’t have any symptoms and can become kidney failure if left undiagnosed.

But, it can be treated if detected early.

What Can You Do?

Good blood sugar control and:

  • Early detection is important! Get an annual urine test for microalbumin.
  • Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the reasons people with diabetes are at a higher risk for kidney disease.
  • Keep cholesterol levels in a safe range.
  • Look out for signs and symptoms such as blood in the urine; frequent urination; burning during urination; puffiness and swelling in the face, hands, and feet; high blood pressure; itchy skin; nausea and vomiting; and weakness.

Digestion Issues


Even though gastroparesis is a form of autonomic neuropathy, it deserves a special mention as one of the common complications of people with diabetes.

Also called delayed gastric emptying, gastroparesis happens when stomach nerves are damaged and the stomach takes too long to empty its contents. Gastroparesis can make diabetes worse by making it hard to control blood sugar.

What Can You Do?

Take care of your diabetes every day. In addition:

  • Make sure you keep your blood sugar levels in check.
  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of gastroparesis, including heartburn; nausea; vomiting of undigested food; an early feeling of fullness when eating; weight loss; abdominal bloating; unpredictable blood sugar levels; lack of appetite; gastroesophageal reflux; spasms of the stomach wall; and bowel problems.
  • The primary treatment goal for gastroparesis is to regain control of blood sugar levels. Treatments also include insulin, oral medicines, and changes to what and when you eat.

Sexual Issues


The sex drives of both men and women can be affected by diabetes. As a result, of nerve or vascular damage, impotence in men, or erectile dysfunction, may occur.

Diabetes can also produce anxiety, stress, and depression, affecting libido and performance. For women, chronic infection or lubrication problems may lead to sexual problems, partly because of discomfort or embarrassment.

What Can You Do?

Just because you are getting older doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy a healthy and fulfilling sex life. Prevent sexual issues from happening by managing your diabetes under the care of your doctor. Here’s more information that may help:</p> <ul> <li> Sexual problems are treatable. Treatment options include medicine, medical devices, surgical implants, and therapy.</li> <li> Talk with your doctor about the steps you can take to improve your love life and sexual health.</li> </ul>

Feet Complications

Detail of female barefoot feet on sunny beach

A big concern for many people with diabetes is amputation. More than 60% of nontraumatic lower-limb amputations occur in people with diabetes.

Other foot issues to be concerned about include peripheral neuropathy, Charcot foot, and foot ulcers and other wounds on the feet.

What Can You Do?

As if you didn’t know already, good diabetes management is the first step to success. And follow these tips:

  • Maintain good blood sugar control.
  • Get measured and fitted properly every time you buy new shoes.
  • See a podiatrist regularly. Also, preventive foot care is very important.
  • Wash and inspect your feet and toes daily.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Eat a nutritious, balanced diet and exercise regularly.
  • Always wear thick, soft socks.
  • Don’t walk around barefoot.
  • Cut toenails straight across instead of rounding the edges.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Never try to remove calluses, corns, or warts by yourself.

About three out of five Americans with diabetes have at least one diabetic complication. Don’t become a statistic! To stay on top of your diabetes care and stop complications, you need to know your ABCs.

These are your A1C level, your blood pressure, and your cholesterol level.

Stay on top of your health to live a long, happy life!


  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Your Game Plan to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-type-2-diabetes/game-plan
  2. Alper, David, DPM. (2019, April 3). Diabetes Discoveries and Practice Blog. Retrieved September 12, 2019 from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/professionals/diabetes-discoveries-practice/look-at-the-feet
  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2015, October). Taking Care of Your Diabetes Means Taking Care of Your Heart. Retrieved September 12, 2019, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke/taking-care-diabetes-means-taking-care-your-heart.
  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2014, September). Diabetes, Gum Disease, & Other Dental Problems. Retrieved September 12, 2019, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/gum-disease-dental-problems