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April 17, 2001

Complications

Question from Yorktown, New York, USA:

My eight year old son has had diabetes for about a year, and like any other parents who have a child with diabetes, I am so worried about my son's future, especially with regard to potential complications. I've been looking all over the literature, Internet sites, etc. and the more information I get, the more I am confused particularly about those statistics. Some say a certain percentage of people with diabetes for a certain period of time will get eye or kidney problems no matter how well they manage their blood sugars while others say such chances are very slim as long as sugar levels are well under control (based on clinical findings from the DCCT. and others). How reliable are those statistics about diabetic complications? Why does such statistical information vary across different sources? I believe that at least theoretically, people should not have any problem in the long run as long as they maintain their sugar levels within the normal range. Are there any other factors that might affect the probability of complications occurring?

Answer:

Figures vary because studies have been done in many different populations with variable factors. However, it is fair to say that the risk of small blood vessel complications (eye, kidney and nerve problems) are much reduced by good blood sugar control. The world is not perfect, however and some people with good control will develop problems and some with awful control won’t. Presumably, genetics have a part to play here. You have to play the numbers game and go for good control with emphasis on a healthy (low fat) diet and regular exercise to limit the risks.

KJR