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Dodging diabetes damage
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Experts estimate that more than 20 million Americans now have diabetes—but that nearly one-third of them don’t know it yet. In fact, many people learn they have diabetes not from telltale symptoms that send them to a doctor, but from routine screening tests. And without symptoms, it can be difficult to appreciate the serious consequences diabetes can have on your health—complications such as heart disease, vision loss, nerve damage, amputations, kidney failure and death.

Having diabetes means your body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin, the hormone that’s essential to get sugar, or glucose, from food into your cells to use as energy. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood, depriving your cells of energy; increasing your risk for infection; and damaging blood vessels, nerves and other parts of your body. The diagram at right illustrates the toll diabetes can take when you don’t manage the condition properly.

Nerves

  • nerve damage (neuropathy)

Mood

  • depression

Eyes

  • blurry vision
  • cataracts
  • glaucoma
  • blindness

Mouth

  • red, infected, swollen gums
  • loose teeth

Skin

  • infections
  • itchiness
  • diabetic dermopathy (light brown scaly patches)
  • blisters
  • acanthosis nigricans (gray-black warty patches)

Stomach

  • slowed or stopped food movement through digestive tract
  • intestinal blockages

Pregnancy

  • birth defects
  • too-large babies
  • miscarriage
  • stillbirth

Kidneys

  • kidney damage
  • kidney failure

Feet

  • loss of sensation
  • sores
  • ulcers
  • infections
  • amputations

Heart

  • narrowing of the arteries
  • high blood pressure
  • coronary artery disease
  • angina
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • high triglyceride levels
  • low “good” cholesterol levels