5 Complications of Diabetes and How to Avoid Them

Diabetes and medications

Diabetes is a metabolic condition in which either of two things will happen: the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the body is unable to properly use insulin. This results in abnormally high levels of blood sugar (glucose).

According to the World Health Organization, more than 420 million people in the world have diabetes. Because it’s a chronic condition, diabetes cannot be cured; fortunately, there are plenty of medications that can help control blood sugar levels and manage various symptoms.

If you’re diabetic, it’s crucial for you to be conscientious about your treatment plan. Otherwise, you may end up suffering complications that can result in disabilities or even death. Listed below are some of the most common complications of diabetes. Take note of them so you can be informed about the dangers of not keeping up with your diabetes treatments.

Neuropathy

Too much glucose essentially makes your blood thicker. This causes the blood vessels to lose their elasticity, preventing them from expanding properly. With narrowed blood vessels, your blood can’t flow properly. In turn, this can result in a reduced amount of oxygen and nutrients reaching various body parts. 

If this happens to your nerves, you will experience what is called neuropathy or nerve damage.

When you have neuropathy, your nerves have a more difficult time sending and receiving messages to and from the brain. This can affect a wide range of bodily functions, like seeing, hearing, and moving. You may even experience digestion-related problems if the nerves in your digestive system are affected.

One of the first signs of neuropathy is either pain or numbness that gradually spreads from the tips of your fingers or toes toward your arms or legs.

Cardiovascular Diseases

When you have diabetes, you also have an increased risk of suffering from a variety of cardiovascular diseases. These include high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, atherosclerosis or the narrowing of arteries, and coronary artery disease. 

Such conditions cause damage to the blood vessels and nerves that serve the heart, ultimately affecting the heart’s capacity to work efficiently.

Nephropathy

When your kidney’s blood vessels get damaged by high blood sugar, you may experience nephropathy or kidney damage. This condition makes it more difficult for your body to filter out waste. Left untreated, nephropathy can lead to lethal kidney failure.

Some symptoms of late-stage nephropathy include:

  • edema (water retention or manas in Tagalog)
  • blood in the urine
  • more frequent urges to pee
  • muscle cramps, especially in the lower extremities
  • erectile dysfunction in men

Retinopathy

If the nerve damage is caused by nephropathy extends to the eyes, you may experience retinopathy or eye damage that may eventually lead to blindness.

Complications Related to Childbirth

Sometimes, women may develop gestational diabetes because of the hormonal changes brought about by their pregnancy. Most of the time, this doesn’t have any effect on the baby’s health. However, if gestational diabetes isn’t managed properly, it can lead to the following complications:

  • preeclampsia is a condition where the woman experiences life-threatening hypertension during or after birth
  • gestational diabetes in succeeding pregnancies
  • excessive growth of the baby, which can lead to a difficult birthing
  • higher risk of the child developing type 2 diabetes when they grow older

In worst-case scenarios, the mother and/or the child may die before or after the birth.

Other complications of diabetes include but are not limited to:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • depression
  • frequent bacterial and fungal infections, especially on the skin and mouth
  • gangrene or tissue death, especially in 
  • hearing problems, as another result of neuropathy

Are Diabetes Complications Preventable?

The above-mentioned complications of diabetes can be scary to think about, but they aren’t entirely unavoidable. The key is to follow your diabetes treatment regimen as prescribed so you can manage your condition well. Here are some tips:

Stop Smoking

Diabetes already makes it harder for your blood to flow normally. If you smoke, your circulation will get even worse. Quitting your cigarette smoking habit can drastically reduce your risk of developing diabetes complications. If you’re finding it difficult to stop, you can ask your doctor for advice.

Eat Healthy and Exercise

Eating the right kinds of food and getting regular exercise is essential in managing your blood sugar and blood pressure. Do note that, in general, there are no “forbidden” foods for diabetics. 

For example, you can still eat sweet treats like chocolates or candies, just in moderation. That said, it’s best to avoid foods heavy on sweeteners (e.g., sugar-sweetened beverages). With regard to exercise, even just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity can work wonders.

Don’t Miss Your Doctor’s Appointments

It’s important to keep a close eye on your health when you have diabetes. This is particularly true if you’re watching out for complications like neuropathy or retinopathy, which can creep up on you if you’re not careful.

When you visit your doctor, make sure to let them know about any changes you may have noticed since the last check-up. By being observant and honest, you’ll be in a better position to keep yourself in good health despite your condition.

Remember that, no matter how cliche it sounds, knowledge is power. Be informed, and you’ll be equipped to deal with your diabetes the right way.

References:

Complications of diabetes | Guide to diabetes | Diabetes UK

Diabetes Complications | MedlinePlus

Diabetes – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

Last Updated on January 10, 2023

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