Diabetes is related to a host of complications that depend upon how long you have been associated with the disease. The longer you have it, greater the chances for more complications. Daily monitoring of blood glucose levels play a significant role in decreasing your risk of complications. Even if a complication arises, regular monitoring would enable you to detect it early and get yourself treated accordingly.

So, what exactly does Diabetes do to your body?

1. Heart and Blood Vessel

Diabetes can lead to changes in your blood vessels. These changes can cause fatty deposits to build up in your blood vessels, resulting in narrowing or blockages of the vessels that go to your heart. If this happens to the blood vessels connected to your brain, you might experience a stroke. Keeping your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels in good control can help delay or avoid these problems. Also, if you smoke, ask your doctor or diabetes educator about resources to help you quit.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD): This occurs when blood flow to your feet and legs is decreased due to narrowed or blocked arteries. You may notice leg pain when walking that goes away if you rest for a while. You might experience numbness, tingling, and coldness in your feet. Cuts and sores on your legs or feet might heal more slowly. Some simple tests/ examinations help determine if a person may have PAD. It involves checking blood pressure readings in the arm and ankle and comparing the results. Tests such as an ultrasound, MRI or angiogram help with diagnosis. There are several treatment options for PAD including medications, exercises, and surgery. Smoking worsens PAD and it is very important that, if you smoke, you quit. PAD puts you at higher risk for heart attacks and stroke. Managing your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol on a daily basis can help lower your risk of these problems

2. Nervous System

About half the people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy. This damage can occur in nerve endings in the feet, legs, hands, digestive or urinary tract.  Nerve damage can come on gradually and the symptoms may be mild, making it more difficult to recognize trouble in time. It tends to occur more often in those who have had diabetes for a longer time. One needs to pay special attention and check their feet every day for early detection and major complications.

People with neuropathy may experience:

  • Numbness, tingling, burning, pain or weakness in the hands and feet
  • Digestive problems such as stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation
  • Problems with erections
  • Increased or decreased sweating
  • Dizziness or faintness when getting up from a lying position
  • Difficulty recognizing the signs of low blood glucose
  • Double vision
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

3. Kidneys

A person with diabetes is much more likely to develop problems with their kidneys. This is called diabetic nephropathy. The kidney performs two important functions: ridding the body of unwanted substances and extra fluid through the urine and keeping needed materials such as protein and minerals from leaving the body through the urine. They also help in blood pressure regulation, helping your bones and blood absorb calcium and, signaling your bone marrow to produce red blood cells.

High blood glucose and high blood pressure can damage small vessels in the kidneys so they are unable to filter out unwanted substances and stop protein from being lost through urine. There may be no symptoms of kidney problems until the kidney has lost a great deal of its function. There are tests available to check urine to see if kidney damage has occurred and treatments for early kidney damage that are very effective

4. Eyes

Diabetes can affect the small vessels in the tissue in the back of the eye called the retina. This is called diabetic retinopathy.  In the early stages, fluid builds up and vessels swell up, and they may begin to leak. This is referred to as non-proliferative retinopathy. Later, very fragile small vessels begin to develop along the retina and in the gel that lies in front of the retina. This is called proliferative retinopathy. Often there are no symptoms of retinopathy until the disease is quite advanced. Vision may not change until there is severe damage. High blood pressure can also contribute to this problem. Cataracts and glaucoma are also more common in people with diabetes. Seeing an eye doctor once a year for a dilated eye exam is essential in detecting and treating early problems before they become major ones. Smokers - try to quit. There are treatments, such as laser surgery, available to help stop leaks in the vessels and preserve eyesight.

5. Skin, Teeth and Gums

Diabetes can make skin dry if blood glucose is high due to a loss of fluids. If one does not sweat as much due to diabetes, the skin will not be as moist. If one doesn’t monitor their blood glucose level, and their skin becomes dry and cracked, germs can enter through these cracks and cause an infection. It is important to keep the skin clean, apply lotion to dry skin - pay special attention to drying skin under the breasts, between the toes, and to skin folds. Notify the doctor for any wound or sore that doesn’t heal and watch for and report any signs of infection such as redness, swelling or draining wounds. High glucose levels can also cause dental problems. One may be more prone to swelling and redness of the gums, which is known as gingivitis. If ignored, gingivitis can lead to more serious dental problems such as periodontal disease leading to increased risk of infection and possible tooth loss. The same toxins that are made by the germs in plaque, a sticky film of germs that stick to teeth, can travel to other areas of the body such as the heart, thereby causing additional problems.  To reduce the risk of dental problems, brush your teeth regularly, use dental floss to clean between teeth, quit smoking, and see a dentist twice a year to have your teeth cleaned and checked.

The only way to keep diabetes in check is to take your health more seriously. Eat right, monitor your blood sugar regularly, give your body enough exercise, quit smoking, and be alert if any of the above complications arise so that you can get yourself treated at the earliest. 

photo credit: Agência Brasil <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/129729681@N06/26227092951">DIABETES</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>