Why we need to be in the know about diabetes complications – Dan Howarth

Our Head of Care Dan Howarth talks about why people with diabetes need to know about diabetes complications, like serious problems that can develop in your eyes and feet. And what we at Diabetes UK are doing to help you get the information you need to manage your diabetes and reduce your risk of developing these life-changing complications.

Well this is my second time writing for our blog and I’m going to shed some light on why we need to talk about complications. I hope that after you’ve read this, you’ll be in the know too. And if you’ve still got burning questions at the end, please add them at the bottom and I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly.

Why we’re talking about complications

You don’t need me to tell you that living with diabetes is complicated or that if you don’t manage it carefully, it can cause all sorts of serious problems. From having a hypo when your sugars are too low, to long-term lasting damage to your eye sight when your sugars get too high – diabetes can do some serious harm. And there are lots of different types of diabetes complications.

As a diabetes specialist nurse, and someone living with Type 1 diabetes, I know a huge amount of people – myself included – don’t always like talking about complications. It’s often a topic in the diabetes world that brings up some awkwardness – “it won’t happen to me” or “but I’m fine right now”. But others can get hugely worried about them, especially parents of children with diabetes.

But not talking about complications doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and avoiding the subject doesn’t mean they won’t happen.

Right now, only 17% of people in the UK think that diabetes is serious.

But despite this, as a result of diabetes, every week there are:

  • more than 169 amputations
  • more than 30 people who develop sight loss.

As the leading charity for people with diabetes, it’s our job to raise awareness of the complications diabetes can lead to, and the steps you can take to avoid them. This is especially important because so many people just don’t think it will happen to them.

You might be thinking “this is a bit morbid, are they trying to scare me?” We’re not, we only want to make a positive change.  If we don’t raise awareness of these devastating consequences of diabetes, then who will?

It’s scary, but it’s not inevitable

Of course, there’s no real point in talking about these complications if we can’t support you to prevent them or delay them getting worse. But the good news is, we can do just that.

Sight loss and amputations are not inevitable. Keeping things like your blood sugar, blood pressure and blood fats under control will massively help to reduce your risk of developing complications. But that means going to your diabetes health checks and knowing how to look after yourself between appointments.

No one is saying it’ll be easy. Finding out about all these complications can in itself be hard, especially if you think you’re pretty much sorted on the diabetes front. But be open to it, and work with us and your diabetes team, and you can really help keep these life-changing complications at bay.

How we’re helping you be in the know

We know that getting the right information at the right time can be life-changing. But it’s a challenging message to get across, without being too scary.

So we asked the specialists how to do it. Not the doctors and nurses, but the people who live with diabetes. People like you.

We’ve spoken with people who were at risk of developing complications and people who had some complications already. The “it won’t happen to me” response is pretty much what we found from those at risk – people know about complications, but don’t think they’ll be affected by them.

I have heard everything. You can go blind, you can get amputated – but I can’t see that, because I feel well in myself apart from the tiredness. I’m just thinking it has to be really extreme for that to happen… I just don’t think it’s going to happen to me, I just can’t compute that into my brain.”

And people who already have some form of diabetes complications told us they wished they’d known more about complications before it was too late.

“Despite having being told to be careful about my feet by my diabetes nurse, I didn’t take it on board or take it too seriously. I did not expect to lose my leg over it.”

“If I could go back… I would take my diagnosis more seriously. I’d have educated myself better. Hindsight is wonderful isn’t it?”

Use our new online tool, Diabetes and Me

With diabetes, knowledge is power. So we’ve developed information, advice and tips based on what people with diabetes have told us. But more than that, we’ve gathered it all in one place in your own section of our website, called Diabetes and Me. Because we want to make it as easy as possible for you to be in the know.

Here you’ll see stories from people who are taking steps to avoid complications, stories from people who have developed sight loss or needed an amputation, and expert advice from diabetes professionals. You can save it, share it, and come back to it when you want. All you have to do is tell us a bit about yourself, to help make what you see relevant to you.

By making this information clear, easy to access and personal to you, there’s real hope that – working together – we can do as much as we can to reduce the risk of complications for people living with diabetes.

Get started by being in the know about all the different health checks and services you should be getting, and how they can help you reduce your risk of complications.



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