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Complications of Diabetes in the USA 

Jennifer Latham Robinson

This data was derived from various surveys of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES III and NHANES 1999-2000), the National Hospital Discharge Survey, and surveys conducted through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Heart disease and stroke

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related deaths. Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about 2 to 4 times higher than adults without diabetes.
  • The risk for stroke is 2 to 4 times higher among people with diabetes.
  • About 65% of deaths among people with diabetes are due to heart disease and stroke.

High blood pressure

  • About 73% of adults with diabetes have blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/80 mm Hg or use prescription medications for hypertension.


  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20-74 years.
  • Diabetic retinopathy causes 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year.

Kidney disease

  • Diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage renal disease, accounting for 44 percent of new cases.
  • In 2001, 42,813 people with diabetes began treatment for end-stage renal disease.
  • In 2001, a total of 142,963 people with end-stage renal disease due to diabetes were living on chronic dialysis or with a kidney transplant.

Nervous system disease

  • About 60% to 70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage. The results of such damage include impaired sensation or pain in the feet or hands, slowed digestion of food in the stomach, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other nerve problems.
  • Severe forms of diabetic nerve disease are a major contributing cause of lower-extremity amputations.


  • More than 60% of nontraumatic lower-limb amputations occur among people with diabetes.
  • In 2000-2001, about 82,000 nontraumatic lower-limb amputations were performed annually among people with diabetes.

Dental disease

  • Periodontal (gum) disease is more common among people with diabetes. Among young adults, those with diabetes have about twice the risk of those without diabetes.
  • Almost one-third of people with diabetes have severe periodontal diseases with loss of attachment of the gums to the teeth measuring 5 millimeters or more.

Complications of pregnancy

  • Poorly controlled diabetes before conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy can cause major birth defects in 5% to 10% of pregnancies and spontaneous abortions in 15% to 20% of pregnancies.
  • Poorly controlled diabetes during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy can result in excessively large babies, posing a risk to the mother and the child.

Other complications

  • Uncontrolled diabetes often leads to biochemical imbalances that can cause acute life-threatening events, such as diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar (nonketotic) coma.
  • People with diabetes are more susceptible to many other illnesses and, once they acquire these illnesses, often have worse prognoses. For example, they are more likely to die with pneumonia or influenza than people who do not have diabetes.

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