April 04, 2022
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“My grandfather lost his foot from diabetes.”
I remember someone telling me this shortly after I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 21. I remember staring at them like a deer in headlights. I was just given this diagnosis and was still coming to terms with what that meant for my everyday life.
I was nowhere near ready to face the “what ifs” of this disease or the potential complications that could come later on.
What I’ve learned in the years since is that diabetes doesn’t wait for us to be ready, so being proactive and educating ourselves is vital. While the worst case scenarios aren’t always pretty, acknowledging them gives us the power to prepare and prevent, where possible.
Here are four common diabetes complications and medically recommended suggestions for preventing them.
Our kidneys act as waste filters, using millions of tiny blood vessels to filter out waste from the blood. High glucose levels cause these filters to work over-time. Over time, these filters begin to slow, and as a result, protein begins to appear in the urine. This is called microalbuminuria, and it’s the earliest stage of CKD.
If detected during the early stage, it’s possible that treatment will prevent CKD from getting worse. Be sure to speak with your doctor and request they check your urine for protein, if that’s not part of your regular visits.
Other symptoms of CKD to look out for are:
Tight glucose control is a key factor in preventing CKD. Studies have shown that strict glucose monitoring can reduce the risk of CKD by one third.
And if you’ve already been dripping protein in your urine (microalbuminuria), regaining tight control can cut the risk of it progressing by 50 percent and possibly reverse it.
About half of people living with diabetes will develop neuropathy of some sort, so it’s important to know what it is and the symptoms to look for.
Neuropathy is caused by nerve damage throughout the body. Peripheral neuropathy is the most common type and affects the feet, hands, legs, and arms. It can feel like “pins and needles”, tingling, numbness, or increased sensitivity and pain.
Other symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include sores that take a long time to heal, or weakness in the extremities.
Tight control is the name of the game when it comes to neuropathy prevention. Be sure to discuss your target glucose levels with your care team and aim to keep your blood sugar in range.
Having open communication with your doctor about any issues that arise will ensure proper treatment is administered to prevent future complications.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. People with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke.
Over time, high blood sugar damages the blood vessels and nerves of the heart. Combining this nerve damage with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides — often seen in people with diabetes — increases the risk of heart-related complications.
None of these conditions have specific symptoms, so it’s important for your doctor to regularly check blood pressure and cholesterol.
Healthy lifestyle changes can help lower your risk of heart disease and prevent it from progressing. Small, realistic shifts in your routine can make a big difference, such as:
Diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults, is caused when elevated glucose levels damage blood vessels in the retina. These damaged blood vessels swell and leak, causing blurred vision, and it may prevent blood flow all together.
Risk factors for diabetic retinopathy include:
Higher risk populations include African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, and Native Alaskan communities.
There are ways to prevent or delay the onset of vision issues.
Some methods include:
We can’t put our heads in the sand when it comes to the reality of diabetes complications. Though diabetes complications can be scary, and in some cases out of our control, our habits and behaviors are completely up to us.
It’s important to focus on the things we have power over: our thoughts, our movement, our food in-take, our self-care, our adherence to our medication regimen, and keeping up with our doctor visits.
Instead of living in fear of diabetes complications, let’s shift to feeling empowered by our knowledge, and our ability to control the things we can, to prevent or delay complications for as long as possible.
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