Diabetes is a metabolic disease that causes high blood glucose or sugar. The hormone insulin is responsible for moving sugar from the bloodstream into the cells for storage or used for energy. In a person with diabetes, the body does not make sufficient insulin, or it is not able to use the insulin it is making. If left untreated, high blood sugar from diabetes can cause damage to your nerves, kidneys, eyes, and various other organs.1
The most common type of diabetes is type 2 diabetes, and it requires significant management to keep your blood sugar under control. Apart from managing the actual condition, you also need to understand the risk of complications that are related to type 2 diabetes. For example, people with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of complications like high blood pressure, heart disease, and foot problems.2
Here are some of the most common complications of diabetes and how to avoid them.
6 Most Common Diabetes Complications
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of heart disease.3 Heart disease is also the leading cause of death in the United States, but people with type 2 diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing the condition than those who don’t have diabetes.4
To lower the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes, it is essential to focus on the primary risk factors for heart disease and manage them. According to the CDC, the significant risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Physical inactivity
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Being obese or overweight
- Not eating a healthy and well-balanced diet
If these risk factors are not addressed, these risk factors can significantly increase the risk of developing heart disease. The best way to reduce the risk of heart disease is to follow a healthy lifestyle, such as exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet.
If you have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, your doctor will prescribe medications for keeping them under control.
High Blood Pressure
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), every two out of three people with type 2 diabetes report having high blood pressure or already being on medication to lower their blood pressure.5 If high blood pressure is left untreated, it can increase the risk of kidney disease, stroke, heart attack, and vision problems.
Having regular visits with your doctor can help you manage both your blood pressure and your diabetes. Blood pressure needs to be checked at every medical visit, and you should also take steps required to lower your blood pressure by maintaining a healthy weight. If you are obese or overweight, take steps to lose the extra weight, and follow a healthy lifestyle to maintain your weight.
If you follow healthy lifestyle habits, it can significantly help lower your blood pressure. Eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, and taking time out to destress are all helpful in maintaining your blood pressure. You should also opt for including whole grains in your meal, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and follow a low-sodium diet for better blood pressure.6
According to estimates from the ADA, people who have type 2 diabetes are nearly 1.5 times more likely to suffer a stroke than people who don’ have diabetes.7 If you have type 2 diabetes, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a stroke, including:
If you experience any of these warning signs of a stroke, it is essential that you contact your doctor immediately or seek immediate medical assistance. The earlier a stroke is detected, and treatment is started, the lesser damage will be used to your brain.8
How do you avoid the risk of a stroke with diabetes? Working with your doctor on finding the most effective treatment plan for managing your diabetes can significantly reduce the risk of stroke. Again, healthy lifestyle habits like exercising regularly and eating healthy can make a huge difference.
Kidney disease is another common complication that is known to affect people with type 2 diabetes. This is because there is a direct connection between blood glucose or blood sugar and your kidneys. When the blood sugar levels remain persistently high, the kidneys begin to struggle to filter out your blood. Over a period of time, this can cause damage to the blood vessels inside the kidneys.9
The common signs and symptoms of kidney disease include:
- Fluid buildup
- Loss of sleep
- Trouble concentrating
However, a person tends to only experience these symptoms by the time kidney function is already dramatically impaired, making it difficult to detect kidney disease.
Managing your blood glucose levels is an important part of reducing the risk of kidney disease as a complication of diabetes. If you have high blood pressure and diabetes, it is likely to significantly increase the risk of developing kidney problems. To lower the risk, if you have high blood pressure, you must talk to your doctor about ways to reduce and manage it. It is also necessary that you keep getting tested for kidney-related problems regularly whenever you go for a checkup.10
Having foot problems is a major complication that happens in people with diabetes. Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of complications that impact the feet the most. Most foot issues that are linked to diabetes are caused by nerve damage, a condition known as neuropathy.11
Neuropathy can cause you to feel unpleasant sensations in the feet like stinging, burning, and tingling, or pins and needles type of sensations. Neuropathy is also known to reduce the ability to experience pain, cold, and heat. This also increases a person’s risk of experiencing injuries, being unable to feel them, which ultimately leads to an infection. In severe cases, neuropathy may also change the shape of the toes and feet, requiring a person to need insoles or special shoes.12,13
If you are experiencing such sensations that might be related to neuropathy, it is important to let your doctor know immediately. Addressing nerve-related issues early on can help prevent the complication from getting worse.
To reduce the risk of neuropathy, it is necessary that you keep your blood sugar levels within a healthy range. It is also required to keep exercising regularly and to keep moving your feet and legs while exercising. Wear comfortable shoes so that there is no pressure on your feet and the nerves of the feet. If you smoke, consider quitting at the earliest and ask your doctor to help you learn about smoking cessation therapies, programs, and medications that can help you quit smoking in an easier manner.14
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of experiencing eye problems like cataracts and glaucoma. Another eye problem related to diabetes is retinopathy, a condition that occurs when high blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels in the eye’s retina. If retinopathy is left untreated and continues getting worse, it can lead to a complete loss of vision.15
There are various new treatment options available for retinopathy that can help prevent blindness in most cases. However, it is still advisable that you take steps to prevent the onset of this condition altogether. You must work together with your doctor to monitor and manage your blood glucose levels. This will help you reduce the risk of developing retinopathy and other eye-related problems.
Ways to Avoid Diabetes Complications
The first and foremost thing for any person with diabetes is to strictly follow their diabetes treatment plan. Carefully managed diabetes care can help decrease the risk of serious and sometimes even life-threatening complications of diabetes.
Here are some ways in which you can actively manage your diabetes to reduce diabetes complications:
Be Firmly Committed To Managing Your Blood Sugar Levels
Your doctor and entire healthcare team will help you learn all you need to know about the basics of diabetes care and also offer their support along the way. However, ultimately you, yourself, are responsible for managing your condition.16
Learn all you can about your condition. Make physical activity a regular part of your day and choose to eat healthily. Cut out junk and processed foods and also maintain a healthy weight.
Keep regularly monitoring your blood sugar and follow what your doctor has advised about managing your blood glucose level. You must take your medications as directed by your doctor. If you notice any change in your symptoms or condition, you need to let your medical team know about it at the earliest.17
If you are a smoker, it is best to quit. Smoking is known to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes along with the risk of developing different diabetes complications, like:18
- Heart disease
- Decreased blood flow to the legs and feet, which can cause ulcers, infections, and in severe cases, even lead to amputation.
- Nerve damage
- Kidney disease
- Eye disease, which can cause blindness if left untreated
- Premature death
Your doctor can help you stop smoking by taking you through smoking cessation methods and programs.
Get Regular Physical Checkups And Eye Exams
You should ideally schedule at least two to four diabetes checkups in a year, along with an annual physical and routine eye checkups. During the physical exam, your doctor will ask you about your activity level, nutrition, any possible signs, and symptoms, and also look for signs of any diabetes-related complications, including signs of heart disease, nerve damage, and kidney damage. Your medical team will also test you for any other medical problem.
During the eye checkup, your ophthalmologist will look for signs of possible glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal damage.19
Manage Your Cholesterol and Blood Pressure Levels
Just like what happens in diabetes, high blood pressure can also cause damage to the blood vessels. High cholesterol levels are also a concern when you have diabetes because when you have diabetes, cholesterol can further aggravate the damage. When both blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes combine, they dramatically increase the risk of having a stroke, heart attack, or cause other life-threatening conditions.20
Eating a low-fat and healthy diet and exercising regularly can help you have more control over your blood pressure and cholesterol. If necessary, your doctor will recommend taking certain prescription medications for controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol.
Take Care Of Your Feet
High blood glucose can potentially decrease the blood flow to the nerves in the feet and cause damage. If left untreated, even small cuts and blisters on the feet can develop into serious infections and wounds.
Keep in mind that diabetes also causes loss of sensation, pain, or tingling in the feet. Here are some tips to prevent foot problems due to diabetes:21
- Wash your feet daily in lukewarm water, but avoid soaking your feet as this can dry out your skin.
- After washing, dry your feet gently but thoroughly, paying close attention to between the toes.
- Moisturize your feet and ankles with petroleum jelly or a thick lotion daily. However, do not apply oils or creams between the toes. This is because the extra moisture present between the toes can cause infection.
- It is essential that you check your feet daily for blisters, sores, calluses, redness, or any swelling.
- If you have an injury, wound, or even a sore on your foot or any other problem on your ankles or feet, you need to let your doctor at the earliest. If you have an open sore or an ulcer on your foot, seek medical assistance at once.
- Never stay barefoot, either indoors or outdoors.
Proper diabetes care is a responsibility you need to take very seriously. Diabetes is a serious disease, and it can cause various complications if not managed properly. Following your doctor’s treatment plan requires commitment. Proper diabetes care can significantly reduce the risk of developing severe and even life-threatening complications. Remember, you have to play an active role in your diabetes care to enjoy a better quality of life and avoid common diabetes complications.
- Chatterjee, S., Khunti, K. and Davies, M.J., 2017. Type 2 diabetes. The Lancet, 389(10085), pp.2239-2251.
- Morgan, C.L., Currie, C.J., Stott, N.C.H., Smithers, M., Butler, C.C. and Peters, J.R., 2000. The prevalence of multiple diabetes‐related complications. Diabetic medicine, 17(2), pp.146-151.
- Cdc.gov. 2020. Division Of Diabetes Translation | CDC. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fdiabetes%2Findex.htm> [Accessed 1 November 2020].
- Cdc.gov. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_heart_disease.htm> [Accessed 1 November 2020].
- Diabetes.org. 2020. High Blood Pressure | ADA. [online] Available at: <http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/lower-your-risk/bloodpressure.html> [Accessed 1 November 2020].
- ACCORD Study Group, 2010. Effects of intensive blood-pressure control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. New England Journal of Medicine, 362(17), pp.1575-1585.
- Diabetes.org. 2020. Complications | ADA. [online] Available at: <https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications> [Accessed 1 November 2020].
- Chen, R., Ovbiagele, B. and Feng, W., 2016. Diabetes and stroke: epidemiology, pathophysiology, pharmaceuticals and outcomes. The American journal of the medical sciences, 351(4), pp.380-386.
- Afkarian, M., Sachs, M.C., Kestenbaum, B., Hirsch, I.B., Tuttle, K.R., Himmelfarb, J. and De Boer, I.H., 2013. Kidney disease and increased mortality risk in type 2 diabetes. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 24(2), pp.302-308.
- Anders, H.J., Huber, T.B., Isermann, B. and Schiffer, M., 2018. CKD in diabetes: diabetic kidney disease versus nondiabetic kidney disease. Nature Reviews Nephrology, 14(6), pp.361-377.
- Resnick, H.E., Stansberry, K.B., Harris, T.B., Tirivedi, M., Smith, K., Morgan, P. and Vinik, A.I., 2002. Diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, and old age disability. Muscle & Nerve: Official Journal of the American Association of Electrodiagnostic Medicine, 25(1), pp.43-50.
- Dahmen, R., Haspels, R., Koomen, B. and Hoeksma, A.F., 2001. Therapeutic footwear for the neuropathic foot: an algorithm. Diabetes Care, 24(4), pp.705-709.
- Boulton, A.J., 1998. Lowering the risk of neuropathy, foot ulcers and amputations. Diabetic Medicine, 15(S4 4), pp.S57-S59.
- Mitchell, B.D., Hawthorne, V.M. and Vinik, A.I., 1990. Cigarette smoking and neuropathy in diabetic patients. Diabetes Care, 13(4), pp.434-437.
- Fong, D.S., Aiello, L., Gardner, T.W., King, G.L., Blankenship, G., Cavallerano, J.D., Ferris, F.L. and Klein, R., 2004. Retinopathy in diabetes. Diabetes care, 27(suppl 1), pp.s84-s87.
- Rayfield, E.J., Ault, M.J., Keusch, G.T., Brothers, M.J., Nechemias, C. and Smith, H., 1982. Infection and diabetes: the case for glucose control. The American journal of medicine, 72(3), pp.439-450.
- Broom, D. and Whittaker, A., 2004. Controlling diabetes, controlling diabetics: moral language in the management of diabetes type 2. Social science & medicine, 58(11), pp.2371-2382.
- Yeh, H.C., Duncan, B.B., Schmidt, M.I., Wang, N.Y. and Brancati, F.L., 2010. Smoking, smoking cessation, and risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus: a cohort study. Annals of internal medicine, 152(1), pp.10-17.
- Tajunisah, I., Wong, P.S., Tan, L.T., Rokiah, P. and Reddy, S.C., 2011. Awareness of eye complications and prevalence of retinopathy in the first visit to eye clinic among type 2 diabetic patients. International journal of ophthalmology, 4(5), p.519.
- Ravid, M., Brosh, D., Ravid-Safran, D., Levy, Z. and Rachmani, R., 1998. Main risk factors for nephropathy in type 2 diabetes mellitus are plasma cholesterol levels, mean blood pressure, and hyperglycemia. Archives of internal medicine, 158(9), pp.998-1004.
- Pollock, R.D., Unwin, N.C. and Connolly, V., 2004. Knowledge and practice of foot care in people with diabetes. Diabetes research and clinical practice, 64(2), pp.117-122.
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