Elevated blood sugar levels have the potential to cause significant harm to various body regions, such as the feet and eyes, leading to what is known as complications of diabetes. However, you have the ability to intervene in order to mitigate or postpone a considerable number of these diabetes-related effects.
Diabetes complications encompass chronic and acute issues, like hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, with potential long-term consequences for various body parts, demanding vigilance and care.
What are the Complications of Diabetes?
Your medical team might discuss two categories of diabetes complications with you: chronic complications, which develop gradually over time, and acute complications, which can occur suddenly and at any moment.
- Eye problems (retinopathy)
- Foot problems
- Heart attack and stroke
- Kidney problems (nephropathy)
- Nerve damage (neuropathy)
- Gum disease and other mouth problems
- Related conditions, like cancer
- Sexual problems in women
- Sexual problems in men
These occurrences can occur without warning and potentially result in persistent, extended complications.
Hypos – characterized by excessively low blood sugar levels.
Hypers – characterized by excessively high blood sugar levels.
Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State (HHS) – an extremely critical emergency unique to individuals with type 2 diabetes. It arises due to severe dehydration and exceedingly elevated blood sugar levels.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – is an exceptionally severe emergency where insulin deficiency and high blood sugar levels contribute to the accumulation of ketones.
Poor control of blood glucose leads to complications in certain body organs which severely affect the life of an otherwise healthy individual. The most common organs affected are:
When diabetes affects the kidneys, the condition is called diabetic nephropathy. It is caused by damage to the small blood vessels in the kidneys, causing reduced blood flow to it while impairing its functions. If the high sugars are uncontrolled for a long time, then, it can eventually lead to kidney failure. This condition is the most prominent cause for dialysis and kidney transplants.
There are no symptoms in the early stages of this complication. Yet as the severity increases, we may start feeling exhausted, may become anemic, and also suffer serious electrolyte imbalances.
When diagnosed early, we can undertake several steps to reduce the progression of the disease and prevent kidney failure. The various methods of management can be control of blood glucose and blood pressure levels, using medicines properly at the early stage, and limiting the use of protein intake in daily food consumption.
When diabetes affects the nerves of the body, it is termed as diabetic neuropathy. It is the most common complication of diabetes. The elevated blood sugar levels can either directly damage the nerves or in some cases, the damage caused to the small blood vessels can also reduce the blood supply to the nerves and may end up damaging them. If left untreated the condition can cause damage to the limbs, sensory loss and impotency in men with diabetes.
The symptoms of this condition vary widely. They are dependent on the nerves being affected. It commonly affects the limbs leading to amputation of the foot and is also a major cause for ulcers to form on feet (diabetic foot). Sensory feeling in the feet and hands is progressively reduced over time if blood glucose levels are left untreated. This is the most prominent cause of amputation, which can be prevented with early detection and treatment.
When diagnosed early, several steps help in preventing or reducing the progression of the disease. The various methods of management can be the control of blood glucose and blood pressure levels and using medicines as prescribed. In addition to managing diabetes, periodic comprehensive screening for neuropathy and diabetic foot are critical to catch the condition in the early stages and prevent its progression or to prevent the condition altogether.
Heart and blood vessels
Individuals suffering from diabetes are at a higher risk of developing problems related to the heart and blood vessels (also called Cardio Vascular Diseases- CVDs) of the body.
Increased blood glucose levels can lead to an increase in the number of blood clots along with increased blood pressure and cholesterol. This commonly leads to the clogging of blood vessels (called Atherosclerosis) and causes narrowing of these blood vessels. This results in reduced blood flow to vital organs like the heart, brain, or limbs.
Individuals with uncontrolled diabetes are prone to disorders affecting various blood vessels supplying blood to
- muscle of the heart (causing heart attack),
- brain (causing a stroke),
- arms and legs or even damaging the heart muscle.
Most of these conditions are fatal and can result in the death of the concerned individual.
The most important step towards the prevention of CVD is the management of blood sugar. This can be achieved by lifestyle modifications and the regular uptake of either prescribed medications and/or Insulin.
Oral and dental health
Individuals with diabetes are generally prone to a number of oral and dental problems if their blood sugars are not adequately managed. These problems are also known cause CVD’s. In the case of people with diabetes, the immunity is weakened and this is primarily responsible for causing multiple oral and dental problems.
The main manifestation of diabetes in the mouth is the swelling of the gums (Periodontitis). This often leads to loss of teeth and can also lead to CVD’s. In cases where blood glucose is left uncontrolled, it often causes
- decay of teeth,
- fungal infections of the mouth (called candidiasis),
- diseases where the body’s immune system attacks the body cells (eg: Oral Lichen Planus),
- burning sensation in the mouth,
- impaired function of saliva,
- dryness of the mouth and impairment of taste
For good oral and dental health, people with diabetes need to maintain good oral hygiene. In addition to it, regular screening and a yearly follow-up are a must to either prevent or manage such conditions.