Diabetes can take a heavy toll on your body if you don’t properly manage the condition. Your risk of suffering from one or more of these disabling or even deadly complications increases the longer you have the disease and the less control you have over your blood sugar:
- Atherosclerosis, or narrowing of arteries, raises your risk of high blood pressure, chest pain, heart attack and stroke. Most people who have diabetes die from some form of heart or blood vessel disease.
- Diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage, causes tingling, numbness or burning in the affected areas—usually starting in the legs or fingers and eventually spreading upward. Over time, this could lead to a total loss of sensation in your limbs.
- Toe, foot and leg amputations occur because of diabetes-related nerve and vascular damage combined, which leads to numbness and reduced blood circulation in the legs, putting you at a higher risk for foot injuries that won’t heal.
- Kidney disease results when diabetes damages your kidneys’ filtering system, causing the kidneys to fail. Dialysis and kidney transplant are the only ways to treat kidney failure.
- Eye diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma, can lead to blindness.
- Erectile dysfunction in men results from diabetes-related nerve damage to the penis.
Is it all doom and gloom? Not a chance. You can ward off diabetes complications by following up with your healthcare provider through regularly scheduled physicals and eye exams, as well as:
- Eating healthfully. That means a diet low in sugar, saturated fats, cholesterol and trans fats and high in fiber from sources such as oatmeal, vegetables and fruits. Partner with a registered dietitian or a certified diabetes nurse educator to map out your plan of attack.
- Breaking a sweat. Exercising at least 30 minutes on most or all days is a good goal. Talk with your healthcare provider to discuss your physical challenges.
- Managing your weight. Is your body mass index (BMI) in the normal range of 18.5-24.9? Calculate yours at www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/. Work with your healthcare provider and dietitian to devise how you can safely lose one to two pounds a week.
- Quitting smoking. From inhalers to patches, numerous aids exist that can help you quit.
- Taking a daily aspirin. If recommended by your healthcare provider, low-dose aspirin can reduce your heart attack and stroke risks.