Keeping diabetes complications under control
Diabetes is a condition wherein the level of sugar in the blood exceeds normal levels because the body is unable to keep it within normal levels. So what’s the big deal? Why all the fuss about sugar in the blood?
The problem with diabetes is that the excess sugar in the blood can damage the tiny blood vessels of various organs of the body. This causes poor blood flow to these organs, which leads to various complications. The most common complications of diabetes are kidney disease, foot problems (e.g., non-healing wounds), vision problems, heart disease and stroke.1
The risk of kidney disease increases in people that have had diabetes for at least 10 years although some patients already have kidney disease by the time they get diagnosed. It is important for you to have your kidneys checked when you are diagnosed with diabetes. Left untreated, kidney disease due to diabetes can lead to the gradual deterioration of your kidneys and even shutdown of your kidneys (kidney failure).
The most telltale sign of foot problems due to diabetes is a non-healing wound on the feet. Left untreated, this could lead to serious infections and gangrene, which may need amputation of a toe or the entire foot.
Eye diseases related to diabetes could range from cataracts to diseases of the retina. These could lead to gradual deterioration of vision to complete blindness.
Heart disease and stroke.
These two conditions are some of the most important complications of diabetes. Two out of every three deaths due to diabetes are caused by heart attack or stroke (brain attack).1
Focus on heart disease and stroke
How diabetes causes heart disease and stroke is not yet completely clear. What is clear, though, is that diabetes increases the likelihood of getting heart disease and stroke, both by two to four times. We also know that the majority of people with diabetes have high blood pressure (hypertension) and/or high blood cholesterol – both of these also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Therefore, taking care of your heart should be one of your priorities when you have diabetes.
Freedom from diabetes complications
If you have diabetes, there are many measures you can take to minimize your risk of diabetes complications.
1. Keep your blood sugar in check. This means:
- Watching what you eat
- Keeping a healthy weight
- Diligently taking your diabetes medications.
- Regularly monitoring your blood sugar levels
2. Taking care of your feet. This means:
- Wearing properly fitting footwear
- Avoiding cutting your toenails too short
- Regularly inspecting your feet for wounds
- Seeing a doctor when you have foot problems, such as wounds, foot/leg pain or numbness
3. Avoid smoking.
- Cigarette smoking increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, leg problems, kidney disease and eye disease.
4. See your eye doctor every year for regular check-ups.
5. Keep your blood pressure under control.
- This will help both your heart and kidneys.
- Regularly check your blood pressure and see a doctor if it exceeds 120/80 mmHg.
- If you are taking medicines to lower blood pressure, take them regularly.
6. Eating a low-salt, low-processed, low-fat, high-fiber diet.
7. Talking to your doctor about medicines you may need to avoid heart attacks, stroke and other complications of diabetes.
In summary, diabetes may cause serious complications, especially heart attack and stroke, if left unchecked. By minding your diabetes, living a healthy lifestyle, and partnering with your doctor to take measures to avoid diabetes complications, one can live free from worry.2
1Deshpande AD, et al. Phys Ther 2008;88(11):1254–1264.
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Put the Brakes on Diabetes Complications. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/prevent-complications.html. Accessed 18 Dec 2019.