If you have diabetes, you need to take your risk of developing complications seriously. Why? Because diabetes doubles your risk of dying from heart disease or a stroke. Diabetes is also a leading cause of chronic kidney disease and kidney failure.
At Central Coast Vein & Vascular, we work with many patients who have diabetes because one of the most common complications is damage to blood vessels—especially in the feet and legs—which can lead to serious conditions like peripheral artery disease. In fact, out of the nearly 2 million people currently living with limb loss, 54% were the result of diabetes-related peripheral arterial disease.
Complications usually develop over a long time without any symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to make and keep doctor and dentist appointments even if you feel fine. Managing your diabetes and early treatment are the keys to preventing or delaying complications and improving your overall health. And the best way to do this is to learn about your risks and the steps you can take to put the brakes on complications.
Dangers of high blood sugar
When you have diabetes, your blood sugar (glucose) levels rise above the normal, healthy range. High blood sugar is where diabetes complications begin.
As high levels of glucose circulate through your body, the sugar damages nerves and blood vessels. It stiffens and narrows your arteries, which blocks blood flow. Without enough blood, tissues and organs don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay healthy and function properly.
People with diabetes also have a higher risk of developing other chronic health conditions, such as high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and obesity. For every additional health condition you have, your risk of diabetes-related complications increases.
Complications caused by diabetes
Let’s look at some of the complications caused by diabetes:
As high blood sugar damages your blood vessels, you’re more likely to develop:
- High blood pressure
- Peripheral artery disease
- Carotid artery disease
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart failure
If you have diabetes and high blood pressure, your risk for heart disease is four times higher compared with people who don’t have either condition.
One of the most common diabetes complications is nerve and blood vessel damage. Diabetes-related damage to blood vessels and nerves most often affects the feet and legs and can cause severe pain, swelling, and numbness. Ultimately the condition can lead to unhealing sores and ulcers and progress to serious, hard-to-treat infections. Amputation can be necessary to stop the spread of infection.
Chronic kidney disease
Chronic kidney disease occurs when high blood sugar damages the tiny blood vessels in your kidneys. As a result, tissues in the kidneys are permanently damaged. More than one third of people with diabetes have chronic kidney disease, a progressive condition that leads to kidney failure.
High blood pressure also damages the same small blood vessels, magnifying the kidney problems caused by diabetes.
Diabetic eye disease
The small blood vessels in your retina are easily damaged by high blood sugar, causing a condition called diabetic retinopathy. Without early treatment, diabetic retinopathy leads to vision loss and blindness. Diabetes also increases your risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma.
Preventing diabetes complications
When it comes to managing your diabetes and preventing serious complications, you are in the driver’s seat. Everyone’s diabetes is different so working closely with your healthcare team and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can get you on the right track. Here are a few highlights:
Make lifestyle changes by managing your “ABC’s”
A: Get a regular A1C test to measure your average blood sugar over 2 to 3 months; aim to stay in your target range as much as possible.
B: Try to keep your blood pressure below 140/90 mm Hg (or the target your doctor sets).
C: Control your cholesterol levels.
s: Stop smoking or don’t start.
Lose weight if you’re overweight—just a 5% to 7% weight loss lowers the risk for complications. That’s 10 to 14 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds.
Take your medications
Your doctor may also prescribe medicines that can help you manage your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Take medicines as instructed, and talk to your doctor if you have questions about or problems with your medicine.
Make regular doctors visits
Make and keep appointments with your health care team (primary care doctor, dentist, foot doctor, eye doctor, and dietitian). Maintaining a regular dialogue with your health care team will help you keep going in the right direction in preventing serious diabetes complications.
For example, your podiatrist (foot doctor) can help you monitor nerve and blood vessel damage in your feet—which often causes numbness and you may not feel cuts and bruises that can rapidly turn into ulcers and progress to more serious conditions.
If you have any questions about diabetes complications and are exhibiting signs of arterial disease in your legs and feet including pain, swelling, numbness, tingling and unhealing sores, call Central Coast Vein & Vascular or request an appointment online.