Risks and Severity

Type-2 diabetes is the most widespread kind. Its onset may be delayed or avoided by adopting a healthy lifestyle (healthy nutrition, physical exercise and weight watching). Type-1 diabetes, on the other hand, cannot be prevented.

Acute complications

The acute complications of diabetes appear suddenly due to an imbalance between insulin and glucose levels:

  • hyperglycaemia, when there is too much glucose in the blood 
  • hypoglycaemia, when there is not enough glucose in the blood.


Hyperglycaemia can occur if an injection of insulin is forgotten, following an incorrect dose or when one is ill.

The most frequent symptoms are:

  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • frequent urination
  • intense thirst
  • recurrent fungal infections (mycoses), more difficult healing of wounds
  • visual impairment.

Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when the cells are forced to tap into fat because of the lack of glucose, causing a loss of weight and an accumulation of chemical elements in the liver. It is fairly common in cases of Type-1 diabetes and rare in cases of Type-2.

The most frequent symptoms are:

  • abdominal pain, nausea
  • respiratory difficulties, breathlessness
  • neurological symptoms
  • significant dehydration.


Hypoglycaemia is defined as an excessively low blood glucose level (less than 70 mg/dL). A mistake in a dose of insulin, forgetting a meal, excessively intense physical exercise can be at the origin of hypoglycaemia in diabetics.

The most frequent symptoms are:

  • pallor, intense fatigue
  • abundant sweating
  • trembling
  • palpitations
  • visual disorders
  • muscular weakness.

Chronic complications

The chronic complications of diabetes appear progressively following prolonged hyperglycaemia and can have a serious effect on health:

  • cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, stroke)
  • damage to nerves (neurological disease, foot ulcers, infection, etc.)
  • loss of sight (retinopathy)
  • kidney failure (kidney disease).

Some of these complications are risk factors for early death.


Sciensano measures the prevalence of diabetes in the population and monitors the quality of care given to diabetic patients with the aim of improving it.

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