November is almost over, which means National Diabetes Month is on its way out too. Before this important month of awareness makes way for December and the holidays, I wanted to bring up one more topic related to diabetes, and that is the complications associated with the condition.
As we’ve discussed in previous articles, diabetes is a serious disorder of the metabolic system that leaves too much blood sugar in the bloodstream. This excess sugar, called hyperglycemia, can cause many health problems if it’s not corrected.
Many Americans with type 2 diabetes keep their condition tightly controlled. They watch what they eat, make sure their blood sugar stays in the healthy range, and avoid complications. But the longer you have the condition, the more likely it is for complications to crop up. In addition, there is a not insignificant portion of diabetics who do not keep their blood sugar under control. People who don’t manage their diabetes well are at much higher risk of developing complications.
Here are the top 10 disorders diabetes can cause:
1. Heart Disease
Diabetes significantly raises your risk of various heart problems. These include chest pain, heart attack, and narrowing of the arteries. This is because diabetes is strongly associated with both high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels.
Pretty much anything that increases your risk of heart attack also raises your risk of stroke. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, just as a heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked. Therefore, anything that causes cardiovascular problems puts you at higher risk of stroke.
3. Nerve damage (neuropathy)
The high levels of sugar in the blood stream can cause damage to the tiniest blood vessels in your extremities. These blood vessels, called capillaries, nourish the nerve endings in your legs and feet. When they become injured, you may feel tingling, numbness, or burning at the tips of your tips. The pain or discomfort gradually spreads upward. If you do not treat this common diabetes complication, you could lose all sensation in the affected limb.
4. Foot damage
Closely related to neuropathy, foot damage can happen when there is a loss of feeling or poor blood flow in the feet. People who have any level of nerve damage in the feet should get in the habit of checking their feet for wounds every single day. With the loss of feeling, an initially minor cut or blister may go untreated, while it festers and grows into a serious infection. These infections, if not caught early enough, can require amputation of the area. Diabetes tends to slow down the body’s ability to heal wounds, further complicating recovery.
5. Kidney damage
Your kidneys are responsible for filtering waste from your blood, and as such, they have a packed network of blood vessels to aid in the process. Excess blood sugar can cause damage to these blood vessels and cause the filtering system to malfunction. Kidney failure and end-stage renal disease are fairly common complications of diabetes. Once you reach end-stage renal disease, the only options are regular dialysis treatment or kidney transplant.
6. Eye damage
The retinas are also at risk of damage due to blood vessel damage. When diabetes affects the blood vessels of the retina, it can cause vision problems that may lead to blindness. Having diabetes also puts you at higher risk for cataracts and other sight conditions.
7. Skin problems
Diabetes can impact the skin’s ability to fight off infection, so many diabetics are more prone to bacterial and fungal infections. And as we mentioned above, the disease often interferes with wound healing, leading to non-healing skin ulcers that sometimes end in amputation.
8. Hearing problems
While there isn’t a lot of research on this, studies show that hearing problems are more common among diabetics than among the general population.
9. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
The risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s seems to be correlated with blood sugar control; the poorer the control, the greater the risk appears to be. There is no proven connection between the two diseases, though.
It’s common for diabetics to also battle depression. The problem is, depression can affect how well you manage your diabetes, drawing you into a vicious cycle where it’s very difficult to take steps to control the condition, but you don’t feel better until it’s under control. A promising study recently found that switching to a vegan diet not only improved blood sugar levels in diabetics, but also positively affected participants’ mental health.
What to do with this information:
If you or someone you love has diabetes, don’t panic. Many diabetics manage to avoid these complications their entire life.
It is good to be aware of them though, so you can make healthy choices early on in your diagnosis, and take steps today to control your blood sugar. If you feel you might be at higher risk for any of these conditions, speak with your doctor about what you can do to help prevent them.