Recent health news, buzzworthy medical blogs, and personal wellness advice curated by our PinnacleCare team and our CEO, Dr. Miles Varn.
A prevention plan for diabetes complications
Type 2 diabetes affects more than 38 million American children, teens, and adults, with more than 8 million of those people unaware they’re living with the disease. A recent study projects that globally, cases of all types of diabetes will increase from half a billion to 1.3 billion by 2050, with type 2 diabetes making up 96% of those cases.
What is diabetes?
When you eat and drink, the body converts carbohydrates into insulin, which is used by the body’s cells to absorb and process sugar. But in people with diabetes, the cells don’t absorb sugar as effectively, a condition called insulin resistance. The body then needs more insulin than normal, which strains the pancreas. When the pancreas can’t meet the body’s demands for insulin, a condition called hyperglycemia occurs. Blood sugar levels remain high and can cause serious, sometimes life-threatening complications.
Diabetes complications can be divided into two categories—microvascular (affecting the small blood vessels) and macrovascular (affecting the large blood vessels).
- Microvascular complications include:
- Retinopathy: High blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the retina, causing the vessels to swell and leak blood, which can eventually lead to loss of vision if blood sugar isn’t lowered. Diabetes can also increase your risk for developing glaucoma and cataracts.
- Nephropathy: Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage the kidneys, causing kidney disease. Untreated, the kidneys can fail and you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
- Neuropathy: Nerves can also be damaged by high blood sugar affecting many different systems in the body and causing a ranges of symptoms, including numbness and pain in the feet, legs, hands, and arms; bladder control issues; sexual dysfunction; diarrhea; constipation; gastroparesis (paralysis of the muscles that move food through the stomach); irregular heartbeat; wound healing problems; and being more susceptible to infections in your arms, hands, legs, and feet.
- Hearing loss: When blood vessels and nerves in the ears are damaged, hearing loss can occur. Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes that’s not well controlled as in people the same age who don’t have the disease.
- Diabetic dermopathy: High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the skin, causing unsightly, but harmless oval or circular brown, scaly patches.
- Macrovascular complications include:
- Cardiovascular disease: High blood sugar increases the risk of atherosclerosis, arrhythmias, heart failure, heart attacks, and stroke.
- Peripheral vascular disease: This condition occurs when the blood vessels in the legs become blocked with plaque, causing pain and cramps when walking, weakness in the legs, cold toes, foot ulcers that don’t heal, and lack of pulse in the legs and feet.
Diabetes has also been associated with an increased risk of gum disease, bacterial and fungal infections, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Strategies to lower your risk of diabetes complications
The first step is to get regular check-ups that include bloodwork, so you know if your blood sugar levels are higher than normal. If you do have high blood sugar, your healthcare provider will build a plan to lower your blood sugar levels. That plan may include medications, monitoring your blood sugar regularly at home, and lifestyle changes, including:
- Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a healthy diet focused on vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and decreasing or eliminating high-sugar, high-carbohydrate, and highly processed foods
- Not smoking
- Keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the normal range
- Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week
- Getting seven to nine hours of good quality sleep per night
- Managing stress to decrease the risk of insulin resistance
- Limiting or eliminating alcohol
- Getting regular check-ups and eye exams at the intervals recommended by your healthcare provider
- Managing gut health (some studies have found an association between an imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria and diabetes)
PinnacleCare Health Advisors work closely with members to manage their diabetes and lower the risk of any diabetes-related complications. Advisors can help find the most qualified providers to help support a healthier lifestyle and provide the best possible preventive care.