Is Swelling Related to High Blood Sugar?

Insulin is a hormone that transfers sugar from your blood to your cells. When you have insufficient amounts of insulin -- or your cells are resistant to insulin -- a you may develop high blood sugar. High blood sugar is the predominant characterization of diabetes, but it is also associated with people who have pre-diabetes. High blood sugar can lead to complications of diabetes that include conditions which involve swelling.

Diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness. Credit: AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images


Swelling, also called edema, is the enlargement of a body tissue, such as skin or an organ. A buildup of fluid in the tissue causes swelling to take place in a local area in several parts throughout your body and leads to rapid weight gain in a short period of time. Common parts of the body that can be affected include the feet, legs, gums, face, blood vessels, joints and glands. Swelling can occur when you eat too much sodium or take diabetes medications called thiazolidinediones.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes characterized by swelling of the lenses of your eyes that is caused by damage to your blood vessels from high levels of blood sugar. Initially, you may not know you have any problems and your eyesight may appear fine. Over time, though, excessive levels of blood sugar in the capillaries that nourish your retina can cause diabetic retinopathy and vision loss. In fact, the higher the levels of blood sugar, the more likely you will damage blood vessels and develop diabetic retinopathy.


High blood sugar increases your risk of an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke, conditions characterized by blockage of a blood vessel supplying the brain, or bleeding into or around the brain, respectively. High blood sugar can cause more swelling associated with a stroke. Research by scientists at the Seoul National University Hospital in South Korea and published in "Stroke" in September 2003 discovered, through a stroke-induced experiment on rats, high blood sugar causes more profound brain swelling and cell death. The scientists found brain water content of rats with high blood sugar was higher than rats with normal blood sugar.


High blood sugar can increase damage to blood vessels throughout your body, which can lead to swelling of your legs and your feet. Diabetics are susceptible to peripheral arterial disease, a condition characterized by narrow blood vessels and decreased blood flow to the legs and feet caused by fatty deposits. Diabetics can also experience swelling of the feet. If not treated, problems can progress to gangrene and require surgery or amputations.

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