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Potential Complications of Diabetes

by Julia McCartney on June 8, 2012

Diabetes is becoming an increasingly large problem in our society. Although many people realize that diabetes is a challenging disease to live with, they don’t realize that diabetes can cause and is associated with several other debilitating health problems. Typically, most complications that arise from diabetes don’t manifest until 10 to 20 years after a person has diabetes. However, because many people who get diabetes don’t show any symptoms, the presence of a complication from diabetes might be the first sign that something is wrong.

Diabetes can cause a lot of issues with the circulatory system and blood vessels. Over time, elevated blood glucose levels will weaken the walls of blood vessels. This can cause people with diabetes to become twice as likely as others to develop cardiovascular diseases. Specifically, diabetes has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. As many as two out of three people with diabetes also suffer from high blood pressure. Diabetes can also have a significant impact on a person’s kidneys. Your kidneys are a filter for your blood, and diabetes can cause your kidneys to filter too much blood and become overworked. Regular urine tests can help determine whether or not you are at risk for kidney disease. If kidney disease is not caught and managed early, the person who is suffering from the disease will need dialysis treatments or even a kidney transplant.

Diabetes can also put people at a higher risk for eventual hearing loss. The National Institute of Health has conducted several studies and has determined that people who have diabetes are twice as likely to lose their hearing than people who do not have diabetes. Hearing is dependent on the blood vessels and nerves in the ear, and these blood vessels and nerves become damaged and unusable from years of damage from diabetes. Unfortunately, there aren’t many treatment options for those people who are suffering hearing loss from diabetes. If you believe you are suffering from hearing loss due to diabetes, talk with your doctor about the possibility of being fitted with a hearing aid.

People with diabetes can also suffer from various eye complications. In fact, a high percentage of all people who suffer from diabetes will contract some form of retinopathy. Glaucoma is also common in people who have diabetes as people who have diabetes are 40 percent more likely to contract the disease than people without diabetes. People who have diabetes are also 60 percent more likely to get cataracts. Regular screening can help to fight these diseases as they can be managed better when they are diagnosed early.

Many healthcare professionals are starting to believe that the relationship between diabetes and gum disease goes both ways, which is to say that people with gum disease have a higher risk of getting diabetes just as people with diabetes have a higher risk of getting a gum disease. Gum disease can progress into periodontitis, which can eventually cause an infection that threatens the bone and connective tissue around your teeth. Ultimately, periodontitis results in the loss of teeth. People with diabetes also tend to suffer more from dry mouth and from a fungal infection known as thrush.

Diabetes can also lead to complications in pregnancy as well as sexual dysfunction. High blood sugar levels during pregnancy will increase the risk of a woman having a miscarriage, and high blood sugar levels can also lead to several birth defects. Women who have an increased blood sugar level during pregnancy also tend to produce larger babies. Sometimes, the size of these babies makes a traditional delivery impossible. 35 to 75 percent of men who have diabetes are likely to experience some form of erectile dysfunction during their lives. This is due to the damage that diabetes can cause to blood vessels. Additionally, men with diabetes are likely to suffer this problem 10 to 15 years earlier than their normal counterparts. There are several solutions to diabetes-related erectile dysfunction though, so be sure to talk with your doctor or urologist to determine what will work best for you.

Diabetes also can cause nerve damage to people. This can lead to someone not being able to feel temperature differences very well or be able to register pain. In people with diabetes, nerve damage most commonly happens in the feet. This nerve damage can even cause a person’s feet and toes to change shape. Diabetes, in addition to causing this nerve damage, can also cause several topical foot problems like calluses, cracking skin and ulcers. In some cases, diabetes can even lead to the need for amputation. One of the most important things you can do to prevent nerve damage is to stop smoking as smoking also damages your body’s small blood vessels. In many cases, special footwear and regular care is all that is needed to prevent the need for amputation.

Fortunately though, if you have diabetes and you do a good job of maintaining your blood sugar levels, you will be at a much lower risk for all of these complications. Additionally, if you do a good job of maintaining your blood sugar levels and you do develop a complication because of your diabetes, the effects of your complication should be far less severe than if you didn’t control your blood glucose levels.

Other ways to help prevent further complications from occurring include watching your weight and living a heart-healthy lifestyle. Because the primary complications that stem from diabetes do damage to blood vessels and the entire circulatory system, following most of the rules that people at risk for high blood pressure follow is a good start. Eat foods that are low in fat and are low in sodium, exercise more, limit your alcohol intake, stop smoking if you haven’t already and be careful about the medications that you take.

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