Diabetes can have some serious complications. For example, few people would guess that diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, amputation, and blindness in the United States. Knowing how to treat the complications of diabetes is essential to maintaining overall health. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common complications of diabetes.
- Nephropathy (kidney disease) – In people with diabetes, the kidney function may decline over time. As this happens, more protein passes through the kidneys into the urine.
What to do? Regular testing is the best way to catch nephropathy at its early stages. Recommended tests include blood work for creatinine (which should be under 1.3) and glomerular filtration rate (GFR, which should be over 60). A urinalysis for micro albumin, or protein, is also recommended, with a negative result the desired outcome.
- Neuropathy (nerve damage) – Nerve damage from diabetes may affect various parts or systems of the body, but some of the most common damage occurs to the feet and legs. People with diabetes who lose sensation to these areas can easily injure themselves, which leads to further complications.
What to do? The signs of neuropathy are numbness, tingling, burning, or pain. Even without these symptoms you should be in the habit of checking your feet every day. Look for any cuts or sores and have them cared for immediately. See a podiatrist once a year for a sensory evaluation, and follow up on the doctor’s advice for further testing. You may be entitled to have your toenails cut by a podiatrist, so check your benefits. There are also many diabetic foot care products that can help preserve your feet, such as diabetic supportive shoes and diabetic socks.
- Retinopathy (eye disease) – Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Over time, this damage can lead to blindness.
What to do? Diabetic retinopathy generally has no symptoms at first. For this reason, it’s important to have an annual eye exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist – even if you aren’t having problems with your vision. Your eyes must be dilated in order for the doctor to best detect eye disease in its early stages.
- Heart Disease and Stroke – Diabetes, stroke, and heart disease are inextricably linked. In fact, people with diabetes are 2 to 4 times more likely to die of heart disease or stroke.
What to do? There are many actions you can take to limit your risk for heart disease and stroke. Keeping your blood pressure under control (at 130/80 or less) is paramount. Check your blood pressure regularly with a blood pressure monitor, and follow the advice of your physician in regulating hypertension. Getting enough exercise can also be preventative when it comes to stroke and heart disease. If intense cardio exercise seems out of reach for you at first, try meeting a steps-per-day goal. You can track your steps with an Omron pedometer to help keep you focused on your goal. Keeping an eye on your cholesterol is also important. Your LDL levels should be below 70, with HDLs above 45 for men and 50 for women.
- Gum Disease – High blood sugar helps germs in the mouth to grow. At the same time, diabetes weakens the body’s white blood cells, affecting your defenses against bacterial infections in the mouth. The impaired blood flow that often comes with diabetes can also delay healing after dental procedures.
What to do? Good oral hygiene is the surest way to prevent gum disease. Brush and floss regularly, and schedule a thorough cleaning twice a year. Have any problems attended to immediately.
Last but not least, controlling your blood glucose levels reduces your risk for all of the complications listed here. Aim for an A1C test result of between 6.5% to 7.0% for optimal health over the long term.