November is an important month. It’s National Diabetes Month; a time to learn more about how to avoid diabetes if you are at risk, how to live well if you have been diagnosed, and how to support our loved ones through it all. Did you know that one in 11 Americans has diabetes. Keeping your blood sugar levels under control by taking your meds, eating right, and exercising makes a huge difference. Over time, diabetes can cause us many health problems, from head to toe! But the good news is, you can prevent, delay, or manage these complications. Read on for some of the complications to look out for and some tips on how to deal with them…
Our brains are our most complex organs, and the command center of our lives. Our slightest movement, the simplest thought, the deepest emotion, depends on our brains. And the health of your brain depends on the health of the blood vessels that feed it. High blood sugar levels can, over time, damage both large and small blood vessels and interfere with blood flow to the brain, which affects the white matter. The white matter is the area where nerves from different parts of the brain connect. When this connectivity is disrupted, our mental function is disturbed. When this happens, over time, one may have trouble with performing regular daily activities. It can also cause memory loss, and even dementia. Research has also found that people who have diabetes by middle age have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
Tip: A combination of physical and mental exercise helps brain health. Mental exercise can be in the form of social engagement such as socializing and working with other people, or reading and learning new skills, for instance.
If you have diabetes you’re at risk of getting certain eye conditions that can affect your vision, or even cause blindness Diabetic retinopathy, the most common eye condition among people with diabetes, causes blood vessels in your eyes to bleed or leak fluid. This fluid can also cause Diabetic macular edema (DME), which is swelling in the part of your eyes called the macula.
Diabetes can cause too much glucose in the lens, leading to Cataract, a condition where your eye’s lens becomes cloudy. The cloudiness prevents light from being reflected to the retina, and so affects your vision. Another condition to look out for is Glaucoma, which happens when pressure builds up in your eye. For people with diabetes, this may happen because the fluid that should be moving around in your eye gets blocked.
Tip: Early detection and treatment of diabetic retinopathy can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 percent. If you have diabetes, get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year, or more often if recommended by your eye doctor.
Our kidneys are our blood filters. They retain the useful nutrients and remove waste from our body. But too much sugar in the blood damages the kidneys’ filters by clogging and damaging their tiny blood vessels. Besides, people with high blood sugar are more likely to develop high blood pressure, which also damages the delicate nerves of the kidney. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease, which can lead to kidney failure.
Additionally, excess blood sugar can damage the nerves that communicate between the brain and the bladder to let us know when the bladder is full. A bladder that is always full can be damaged by the pressure over time. When urine which has a lot of sugar due to diabetes remains in the bladder for a long time, the risk of bacterial infection is high. The infection starts in the bladder but can eventually spread to the kidneys and damage them.
Tip: In the early stages of kidney disease, often there are no warning symptoms. If you have diabetes, get annual blood and urine tests to monitor your kidney health. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent kidney failure.
If you have diabetes, monitoring the health of your feet and caring for them is extra important. Experts advise people with diabetes to have annual foot exams to check for peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy causes pain or loss of feeling in the toes, feet, legs, hands, and arms; and for most people with diabetes, it is their feet that take the brunt of this condition. Doctors estimate that nearly half of the amputations caused by neuropathy and poor circulation could have been prevented by careful foot care.
The tell-tale signs of peripheral neuropathy are pain, tingling, numbness and loss of feeling in the arms, hands, legs or feet. Some people have nerve damage with no symptoms at all, while others suffer excruciating pain. Prescription pain creams such as those customized at NewSpring Pharmacy can help manage pain caused by nerve damage.
The danger of lost sensation lies in not noticing sores or injuries in the feet. Unnoticed, these injuries may become ulcerated or infected.
Tip: Wash your feet in warm water (not hot), dry them well. Inspect your feet and toenails for any injuries, wounds or infections. The Center for Disease Control recommends you see your doctor if such wounds do not heal after one day. Apply lotion on the tops and bottoms of your feet, but not between the toes.