This article was medically reviewed by Amanda Ciprich, MS, RD. Last updated on 9/19.23.
Individuals with diabetes often receive an early conversation with their healthcare provider where they are presented with a list of very real and frightening potential long-term diabetes complications. Although diabetes complications are commonly associated with the condition, not every person with diabetes will go on to develop these complications. However, it is still important that all people with diabetes be aware of possible complications and understand how to address them.
One of the most effective strategies for individuals with diabetes to delay or reduce their risk of long-term diabetes complications is to take a proactive approach to their management by scheduling regular appointments with their care team and undergoing routine blood work and health screenings.
It is also important to remember that these complications typically progress over time. When identified and treated at an early stage, diabetes complications can be slowed down through effective treatment and interventions. By staying proactive and informed, individuals with diabetes can empower themselves to manage their condition and reduce the risk of potential complications later in life.
Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes
Cardiovascular disease is common amongst individuals with diabetes, emphasizing the importance for individuals with diabetes to prioritize their heart health. High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and nerves controlling the heart. Beyond elevated blood sugar levels, other factors like high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels, common in people with diabetes, contribute to these complications. These conditions, when combined with persistently high blood sugar levels, can cause significant stress on the heart which can contribute to heart disease. The most common cardiovascular conditions linked to diabetes include:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart failure
It is important for individuals with diabetes to prioritize cardiovascular health by adopting a comprehensive approach to diabetes management. This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and adherence to prescribed medications. Additionally, managing blood sugar levels, monitoring blood pressure, and managing cholesterol levels are essential in reducing the risk of cardiovascular complications associated with diabetes. Regular communication with healthcare providers and timely screenings can further aid in early detection and intervention for optimal cardiovascular health.
Diabetic neuropathy, a nerve damage complication that can arise with diabetes, impacts nerve fibers throughout the body, predominantly affecting those in the legs and feet. This prevalent condition affects up to 50% of people with diabetes, making it one of the most common complications. Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can vary significantly depending on the specific type of neuropathy and the nerves impacted. Commonly reported symptoms include numbness, tingling, or pain in the feet, legs, hands, and arms.
Early diagnosis of diabetic neuropathy gives patients the best chance of effective treatment. But since not all foot or limb pain means diabetic neuropathy, accurate diagnosis is important to ensure appropriate treatment. Diagnosis of diabetic neuropathies is based on history, clinical examination and supporting laboratory tests.
Treatment of diabetic neuropathies involves two primary stages. The first focuses on lifestyle changes and medical management to improve blood sugar management. This includes managing other risk factors such as high triglycerides or cholesterol, addressing high blood pressure, and quitting smoking. Regular aerobic exercises have been shown to protect the nerves and improve neuropathy outcomes. The second stage involves managing symptoms, particularly pain, and addressing other complications. Treatment approaches can vary depending on the specific symptoms and severity of the neuropathy, and may involve pain medications, anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, topical creams, transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy, or acupuncture.
Chronic Kidney Disease and Diabetes
Diabetic nephropathy, also known as chronic kidney disease, is a serious complication that can occur in people with diabetes. Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels can cause damage to the kidney’s filtering function, which is responsible for eliminating waste products from the body.
When kidney function is impaired, it often necessitates adjustments to one's diet, lifestyle, and medication regimen. If the decline in kidney function continues, it can ultimately result in kidney failure, which requires individuals to undergo dialysis treatments to eliminate waste products from the body. Taking preventative measures is essential for preserving kidney health and maintaining kidney function. Preventative measures include maintaining blood glucose management, consuming a balanced diet, regular exercise, and managing blood pressure. Additionally, regular medical check-ups are essential for monitoring kidney function through blood tests, urine tests, and blood pressure measurements. By implementing these preventative care measures, individuals with diabetes can take proactive steps in preserving their kidney function.
Diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes affecting the eyes and the retinal blood vessels, can progress from mild symptoms or no symptoms in the early stages to significant vision loss or even blindness if left untreated. Managing and preventing diabetic retinopathy requires careful control of blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Regular eye examinations with an ophthalmologist or retina specialist are crucial for early detection and timely treatment. Early intervention can help preserve or improve eye health.
The treatment for diabetic retinopathy varies depending on the stage and severity of the condition. In some cases it may require laser treatment, intravitreal injections, steroids or surgical interventions to prevent further growth from blood vessels and improve vision. Overall, individuals with diabetic retinopathy require effective treatment planning and long-term management to preserve vision for as long as possible.
Diabetes Foot Complications
Diabetes foot complications are a result of nerve damage and poor blood circulation in individuals with diabetes. When left untreated, even minor injuries or wounds in the feet can become serious problems. In severe cases, it can lead to deep tissue or bone infections and non-healing ulcers that may require amputation as a last resort to prevent the spread of infection or further complications.
When diabetic foot complications arise, treatment options depend on the specific condition and severity. The treatment for diabetic foot complications depends on the specific condition and its severity. Treatment options may involve wound care to promote healing, antibiotic treatment for infections, or the use of offloading techniques to relieve pressure on sensitive areas.
Preventing diabetic foot complications begins with proactive foot care practices, such as maintaining cleanliness, wearing properly fitted shoes and socks, and regularly undergoing foot examinations by healthcare professionals. It is also crucial to keep blood sugar levels within the target range to minimize the risk of these complications.
Importance of Proactive Diabetes Management
Taking a proactive approach to diabetes management is essential for reducing the risk and severity of complications. This involves actively managing blood sugar levels, adopting a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining regular healthcare visits.
By closely monitoring blood sugar levels, individuals can make informed decisions about their diet, medication, and lifestyle choices to keep their levels within the target range. This proactive approach helps improve blood sugar management and reduce the risk of diabetes complications. Adopting a balanced diet that focuses on nutritious foods and portion control is key to managing diabetes. Including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help maintain stable blood sugar levels and support overall health. Regular physical activity plays a crucial role in diabetes management. Engaging in regular exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity and enhance cardiovascular health. Proactively incorporating physical activity into daily routines can have long-term benefits for diabetes management. Equally important is the regularity of healthcare visits. Regular check-ups with healthcare providers allow for monitoring of blood sugar levels, assessment of overall health, and adjustment of treatment plans as needed. These visits provide an opportunity to address any concerns, receive guidance, and stay updated on the latest developments in diabetes management.
By adopting a proactive approach to diabetes management, individuals take control of their health, promoting self-care and reducing the likelihood of complications. It empowers them to make informed decisions, establish healthy habits, and work collaboratively with healthcare providers to achieve positive outcomes in diabetes management.