Having diabetes over the long-term comes with consequences in the form of complications that no one likes to think about. But by familiarizing yourself now with possible complications, and resolving to do everything in your power to prevent them, you'll be looking at a healthier and happier future.

Diabetic complications fall into two categories, those that affect the small blood vessels (microvascular) and those that affect the large vessels (macrovascular).  When a person suffers microvascular complications, the nerves, kidneys and eyes are affected. Macrovascular complications include problems with the circulatory system, including the heart.

Some 60 to 70 percent of diabetics have some nervous system damage such as pain in the hands and feet, says Adee Rasabi, RD, CDN, CDE, of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center in New York City. "Eyes also are affected, with damage to the eyes occurring in 50 percent of diabetics after 10 years and 80 percent of diabetics after 15 years," she says.

But suffering diabetic complications is not a given. "Usually, long-term complications occur when a person's blood sugar is elevated over a long period of time," says Amy Fischl, MS, RD, of the University of Chicago. "And it's been proven that improving blood sugar and blood pressure can reduce the risk of long term complications."

An elevated Hemoglobin A1C also is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, Rasabi explains. "But you can reduce the risks of heart disease and slow the progression of long-term complications by controlling the blood sugar," she adds.

Here's what you can do to reduce your risk of long-term adverse consequences:

  1. Be pro-active about your checkups, says Fischl. Get your eyes examined regularly and make sure your doctor checks your blood pressure and cholesterol at each visit. Also make sure that your doctor is keeping an eye on kidney function. A urine screening can reveal potential problems like protein in the urine,  and if something develops,  medications are available.
  2. Coddle your feet. Be sure to have your doctor examine your feet at each visit. Keep your nails trimmed with an emory board rather than a nail clipper to help prevent getting cuts in the skin, Rasabi says. Use lotions to keep your feet from getting excessively dry. "Address any foot problems immediately," she advises. One reason for checking your feet at the doctor's office is to see if there is any nerve damage, Fischl explains. A sensitivity test will be conducted by the doctor, and if it turns out that you do have nerve damage, mediations may be used to stop the progression.
  3. Reduce your consumption of trans fats and replace trans fats with healthy fats.
  4. Pay attention to your hemoglobin A1C and aim to get it in the normal range. "You want it to be less than 7," Rasabi says. "And your blood sugar, ideally, should be between 70 and 130 before a meal."
  5. Educate yourself about what constitutes a healthy blood cholesterol and strive to get yours in the normal range. "Your good cholesterol should be over 40 for men and over 50 for women," Rasabi says.