In the United States alone, more than 29 million people have diabetes, but physicians suspect there are millions more undiagnosed.
With so many people affected by the disease, it’s important to understand it’s not just a sugar problem. Diabetes can become systemic, having serious effects on different parts of your body.
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you’re at higher risk for developing heart disease at a younger age and in a more severe form. Diabetes automatically puts you in a higher risk factor for heart disease, which is called diabetic heart disease. The higher your blood sugar, the higher your chances are of developing DHD. In fact, of those with diabetes, men are twice as likely to have a heart attack and women are three times as likely.
If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, you know you’re at risk for developing certain eye disease, specifically diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema. However, glaucoma and cataracts are also a risk.
According to the National Eye Institute, “Chronically high blood sugar from diabetes is associated with damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to diabetic retinopathy.” And because diabetic retinopathy leads to diabetic macular edema, it’s important to keep a healthy blood sugar level and get a comprehensive eye exam yearly.
The key to keeping your feet healthy is to prevent as much nerve damage as possible. Nerve damage, called neuropathy, can cause tingling or numbing in your feet. So, if part of your foot is numb, you could walk around all day with a rock in your shoe and not know it. The rock could lead to tissue damage, which could lead to infection and so on. Additionally, diabetes causes hardening or narrowing of the blood vessels in your feet, which leads to poor circulation. The best way to avoid foot problems is to take care of your feet and have them checked regularly by a doctor.
A skin issue is often the first sign that you have diabetes, and most issues are caused by damaged blood vessels. Diabetic dermopathy causes brown, raised patches of skin usually on the front of the legs. It doesn’t cause pain or itching and is harmless. There are more, but it’s important to note that many skin conditions related to diabetes can be avoided by keeping the condition under control.
Diabetes can be particularly hard on your kidneys. As the filter for your blood, your kidneys have to work harder when your blood sugar level is high. After years of doing too much work, your kidneys can start to fail, leading to dialysis or even a transplant.
While this is a formidable list of conditions, the common, positive theme is most of these can be prevented by keeping your diabetes under control. Maintaining a well-balanced diet, exercising and taking the appropriate medications when you’re supposed to can make a huge difference in how you live with diabetes.