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Complications of Diabetes

Diabetes can lead to complications like:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attacks
  • Kidney failure
  • Blindness
  • Amputations

It’s a scary list. But it’s really important to understand why these can happen and what you can do to avoid them.

Why complications happen?

Diabetes-related complications are mostly caused by high blood sugar levels over a long period of time. These aren’t day-to-day spikes in your levels – everyone experiences these. It’s the continuing high blood sugars levels that can damage almost every part of your body.

You are also more likely to experience complications if you have too much fat in your blood and if your blood pressure is too high.

What you can do…

Take control of our diabetes – Try and keep your HbA1c within the target range set by your doctor.
Stop smoking – If you smoke, then stopping will reduce your risk of complications.
Eat well – Sticking to a healthy diet makes it easier to reduce fats in your blood, like cholesterol. It will also help you keep your blood pressure down.
Keep active – Regular exercise plays a vital role in maintaining your heart health.

Your eyes

In fact, diabetes is one of the leading causes of preventable sight loss in people of a working age world-wide.

Eye problems happen because high blood sugar levels over a long period of time damage the blood vessels around the retina, the seeing part of the eye and eventually the retina itself. This is called retinopathy and will affect your vision, and can, ultimately, cause sight loss and blindness.

It’s extremely unlikely that someone with diabetes will just wake up blind one day – the damage is gradual. Because of this, treatment to slow down or stop further damage is possible for most people.

How can you tell if you have an eye disease?

Often, retinopathy can be quite advanced before it starts affecting people’s vision. Hence, having an eye screening every year is important.

Your feet

Looking after your feet is really important for everyone with diabetes.

People with diabetes are at risk of amputations and ulcers because, high blood sugar levels over a long period of time lead to nerve and blood vessel damage.

How can you tell if you have foot disease?

Nerve damage can mean you stop feeling pain in your feet and legs, so you might not realize if you’ve cut or burned them.

Blood vessel damage may cause cramp-like pain in the calf while walking. Also, makes it more difficult for your body to heal itself. Even small cuts, blisters and burns can lead to ulcers and infections, which can end in an amputation.

Diabetic foot risk assessments and care could reduce foot complications and amputations by up to 85%.

Your kidneys

More than one in three people who need kidney dialysis or a transplant have diabetes. This is also called nephropathy, or renal disease.

It happens when there’s damage to the small blood vessels in the kidneys. It develops slowly over many years. So, it usually affects people who have diabetes for a while.

If it’s found early, kidney disease can be treated successfully.

How can you tell if you have kidney disease?

You really can’t tell that you have it in the early stages. That is why regular testing is crucial.

If you don’t have your annual tests and your kidney problems are left untreated, you may start to feel unwell, tired or nauseous, and your hands and feet might look swollen.

Eventually, this could result in end-stage kidney (renal) failure. Kidney failure can only be treated with dialysis or a kidney transplant.

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Heart attack and stroke

Heart attacks, heart failure and stroke often happen to people with diabetes because of damage to the heart and blood vessels.This damage is known as cardiovascular disease.

People with diabetes are more at risk of it because high blood sugar levels over a long period of time can damage the heart and blood vessels.

High blood pressure and high blood fats, like cholesterol, also increase your risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. The same goes for smoking.

How can you tell if you have a heart problem?

You may not have any symptoms in the early stages. This can make it hard to diagnose.

But, a feeling of tightness in the chest, or painful legs when walking, can be symptoms of partially blocked blood vessels. When this happens to the blood vessels in the heart, it is called angina and it increases the risk of a heart attack. If it happens in the legs, it can increase the risk of ulcers and gangrene.

Annual check-ups

Thus, as we understand the only way to diagnose diabetes related complications at an early stage is by visiting your doctor for regular check-ups every year including:

  • Eye test – retinal screening
  • Comprehensive feet examination
  • Kidney function tests – Blood –> urea, creatinine and electrolytes , Urine –> complete analysis, ACR
  • Lipid profile
  • ECG

Other tests for diabetes

  • Fasting and post-prandial blood sugars at least once a month
  • Hba1c (average sugar) – once in 3-6 months
  • Blood pressure at every doctor visit