Complications of diabetes
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are associated with various complications. These complications usually do not occur in people who maintain normal blood sugar levels. However, certain factors such as age of onset of diabetes, genetics and gender increase the risk of developing complications due to diabetes. The following are the complications that occur due to diabetes:
Diabetic neuropathy (Damage to the nerves)
If you have diabetes, the increased sugar levels in your blood can cause damage to the walls of the capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that supply blood to the nerves in your body. The nerve damage commonly occurs in your feet; however, it can occur throughout your body affecting your digestive system, heart and sex organs.
Diabetic neuropathy occurs in 60-70% of the diabetic population and the risk of developing it increases with age. People who have been diabetic for a longer duration also have a higher risk of developing nerve damage. In diabetics, uncontrolled sugar levels, high blood levels of lipids, high blood pressure and obesity also increase the risk of diabetic neuropathy.
The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include numbness, tingling and pain at the tips of toes and fingers, which aggravates over time leading to loss of sensation in the affected parts. As the nerve damage in the feet worsens, untreated cuts or blisters can develop infections that do not heal easily leading to gangrene and amputation of the affected parts.
Diabetic damage to the nerves supplying the digestive tract can lead to disturbances in digesting food. Symptoms of nausea, vomiting, bloating and loss of appetite can occur due to gastroparesis, a condition in which the emptying of the stomach is slowed down. Damage to the nerves supplying the esophagus causes difficulty in swallowing food. Damage to the nerves of the bowels can lead to constipation. Diabetic neuropathy can lead to erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness and sexual complications in women.
Diabetic retinopathy (Eye damage)
If you are diabetic, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the blood vessels supplying blood to the retina of your eye leading to vision problems. In diabetic retinopathy, the blood vessels swell causing fluid leakage in the eye and new blood vessels grow abnormally in the retina causing vision problems.
In the initial stages, diabetic retinopathy presents no symptoms or only mild vision problems. However, when the condition aggravates over time it can lead to blindness. Some of the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurred vision, appearance of floaters, loss of color vision and changes in vision. Diabetics also have a higher risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma.
Diabetic nephropathy (Damage to the kidneys)
It has been estimated that 30 % of type 1 diabetics and 10-40% of type 2 diabetics can develop diabetic nephropathy. Damage to the small blood vessels is common in diabetics. When small blood vessels in your kidneys are damaged, the kidneys no longer function optimally. It causes retention of salt and water in your body leading to swelling of the feet and ankles. Protein is also excreted along with your urine, a condition referred to as albuminuria. There is also a buildup of toxins in your body due to malfunctioning of the kidneys.
Nerve damage is also common in diabetics and damage to the nerves of the urinary bladder can cause difficulties in emptying the bladder. This can cause infections and damage to the kidneys.
If you have diabetic nephropathy you may have symptoms of presence of albumin/protein in the urine, high blood pressure, swelling in your legs and ankle, frequent need to urinate especially at night, morning sickness, nausea, vomiting and anemia.
Diabetic heart disease
Epidemiological and pathological data suggests that cardiovascular disease is very common in men and women with diabetes. Diabetes is a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. Moreover, the recovery is difficult in diabetics with cardiovascular disease in comparison to non-diabetics with cardiovascular disease. Incidence of coronary artery disease, heart attack, chest pain (angina), atherosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels), cardiomyopathy and stroke is highly prevalent among diabetics.
If you are diabetic you have a high probability of developing hypertension, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. If you are diabetic you have a higher risk of developing high blood LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol), low blood HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol) and high blood triglycerides. This is called diabetic dyslipidemia, which is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. Insulin resistance in diabetics causes obesity, which is also a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
If you are a diabetic you are prone to develop bacterial and fungal skin infections, hearing problems and Alzheimer’s disease.
How to prevent the complications of diabetes?
The complications due to diabetes can be prevented or delayed from developing by:
- maintaining normal blood sugar levels
- eating a healthy diet and controlling your cholesterol levels
- exercising regularly
- maintaining good sleep hygiene
- consulting your eye doctor every year
- quitting smoking
It is imperative that you visit your doctor regularly and inform them about any abnormalities or health issues that you may have developed.