As regular readers of this blog probably know by now, diabetes develops either when your body stops producing insulin or your body’s cells stop responding to insulin. As a result your body struggles to convert blood sugar/glucose into energy and your blood sugar levels start to rise. Over time these high blood sugar levels cause damage to your blood vessels, nerves and organs. In this article I will be outlining the main areas of your body that diabetes can cause damage to and discuss how this damage can be avoided.
1) THE HEART:- If you suffer from diabetes then unfortunately you have an increased chance of suffering from heart disease also. The reason for this is that high blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels and restrict the flow of blood to your heart.
There are a number of symptoms related to heart disease which you should try to look out for. These include:
– Chest Pains.
– Irregular Heartbeats.
– Swollen Ankles.
To reduce your risk of contracting heart disease you must first make sure that you are treating your diabetes effectively. After you have done this you should also consult your doctor to see if there is anything else you can do. Quitting smoking, reducing your alcohol intake and maintaining a healthy weight all contribute to a reduced risk of heart disease.
2) THE KIDNEYS:- Diabetes can cause damage to the kidneys with this type of damage being commonly known as diabetic nephropathy. The kidney’s main function is to filter waste products from the blood and if the blood vessels in the kidneys become damaged, the kidneys function less effectively. In the worst cases diabetic nephropathy can lead to kidney failure, although this is very rare.
To treat diabetic nephropathy, you again need to be treating your diabetes effectively. The next step after this is to get your blood pressure checked because hypertension (high blood pressure) is known to accelerate diabetic nephropathy. If you have high blood pressure also then you will need to consult your doctor who will be able to give you advice on treating high blood pressure.
3) THE EYES:- As I mentioned when discussing the symptoms of diabetes, diabetics are at risk of diabetic retinopathy. This occurs when the light sensitive tissues on your retina become damaged by the high levels of glucose in your blood. Over time this can cause your vision to become blurred and in the worst cases lead to complete loss of vision. People with diabetes are also twice as likely to develop cataracts (when the clear lens of the eye becomes clouded) and glaucoma (when the optic nerve of the eye becomes damaged).
To reduce the risk of getting eye damage you need to keep your diabetes under control and also have yearly eye examinations, so that if any eye damage does develop it can be treated in the early stages. If the eye damage gets too serious it can be treated through surgery in most cases.
4) THE NERVES:- Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to nerve damage which contributes to diabetic neuropathy (a nerve disorder caused by diabetes). There are a number of types of neuropathy including:
– Peripheral Neuropathy:- Nerve disorders associated with the feet, toes, lower and upper legs, the hands and the arms.
– Autonomic Neuropathy:- Nerve disorders affecting the bowel, the bladder, the digestive system, perspiration and sexual response.
– Proximal Neuropathy:- Nerve disorders affecting the hips, buttocks and thighs.
– Focal Neuropathy:- Nerve disorders which rapidly affect a nerve or a group of nerves.
The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy vary depending upon the type and the individual. Some people will experience no symptoms at all. Others will feel numbness, tingling or pain.
To prevent diabetic neuropathy you need to keep your blood sugar levels stable by manageing your diabetes properly. This will help to keep your nerves protected. More specific treatments may also be used for specific types of neuropathy.
5) THE FEET:- Peripheral neuropathy is one of the most common types of diabetic neuropathy and it very often affects the sensory nerves in the legs and feet. If the nerves in your legs and feet become damaged, your feet usually become numb meaning that cuts and sores often go unnoticed. On top of this, the blood vessels in your legs and feet can become damaged by the high levels of glucose in your blood, meaning that the blood supply to the feet is restricted. Therefore, these unnoticed cuts and sores take longer to heal and are more likely to become infected. If they do become infected this can lead to further complications and in the worst cases amputation may be necessary.
To prevent damage to the feet a number of precautions are required. First, you should make sure that you are taking good care of your feet. Your footwear should be comfortable, your nails should be cut regularly and your feet should be washed daily. Secondly, you should inspect your feet daily to identify any cuts, sores, bruises or ulcers. If you find any these should be treated by yourself or your doctor as soon as possible. Thirdly, you should have a regular foot examination performed by a professional. They may be able to detect foot problems which your daily inspection has missed. Finally, you need to keep your diabetes under control. This will reduce your risk of developing foot complications as your nerves will be more receptive to feeling and the blood flow to your feet will be improved.
6) THE GUMS:- The blood vessel damage caused by diabetes can weaken the gums and make them more susceptible to infections. On top of this, high levels of glucose in the mouth fluids encourage bacteria to grow.
There are a number of symptoms related to gum infection which you should look out for. These include:
– Bleeding of the gums that is stimulated by brushing or flossing.
– Constant Bad Breath.
– Loose Teeth.
– Puss in between the teeth or gums.
– Receding Gums.
However, for the most accurate diagnosis you should consult your dentist. If you are diagnosed with gum disease then they will be able to advise you on the most effective treatment.
To reduce your risk of developing gum disease you need to keep your diabetes under control and combine this with a good oral health routine. Daily brushing and flossing can significantly reduce the chances of gum disease developing.
7) THE SEXUAL ORGANS:- Diabetes can affect the sexual organs of both men and women. Diabetic neuropathy in men can lead to the erectile tissue becoming damaged, ultimately causing erectile dysfunction. According to Diabetes.co.uk nearly one third of male diabetics suffer from erectile dysfunction. Damage to the blood vessels also puts female diabetics at risk of vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina), cystitis (inflammation of the bladder lining) and limited clitoral stimulation during sex because of the limited blood flow.
In the majority of cases, damage to the sexual organs can be reduced through stricter treatment of your diabetes. In fact, many of the above problems will disappear with better diabetes management. However, if you are on top of your diabetes and still experiencing problems with your sexual organs you should consult your doctor. They will then be able to determine the probable cause and give you further advice and treatment.
I hope this article has shown you just how serious diabetes can be. I’m not trying to use scare tactics but if you don’t stick to an effective diabetes treatment plan you can cause a lot of damage to your body. The majority of this damage can be avoided completely if you stick to a healthy diet, exercise regularly and follow a sensible diabetes treatment plan in order to keep your blood sugar levels under control.
Whilst every intention has been made to make this article accurate and informative, it is intended for general information only. Diabetes is a medical condition and this article is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your doctor or a qualified medical practitioner. Before making any lifestyle changes you should always seek your doctors advice. If you have any concerns regarding any form of diabetes then you should speak to your doctor right away.
Blood Sugar/Glucose Information (Wikipedia)
Diabetes Complications Information 1 (Diabetes.co.uk)
Diabetes Complications Information 2
Diabetes and Sex Information (Diabetes.co.uk)
Type 1 Diabetes Complications (NHS Direct)
Type 2 Diabetes Complication (NHS Direct)