If you are diagnosed with diabetes, it is critically important that you work with your Ohio State doctor to manage your diabetes so that you can maintain your health and longevity.
Without proper management of diabetes, blood sugar (glucose) levels can remain high and lead to serious, irreversible health complications. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to problems with the heart, eyes, feet, kidneys and nerves. It can also result in skin disorders, digestive conditions, sexual dysfunction and problems with the gums or teeth. Low blood sugar can also result if diabetes is not managed well.
Diabetes and Heart Disease
If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes (higher than normal blood sugar, but not high enough to be considered diabetes), you have an increased risk for heart disease. Diabetes can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, heart failure and diabetic cardiomyopathy.
In addition to being diabetic, other factors that put you at risk for heart disease include:
Family history of heart disease
Extra weight around the waist
Abnormal cholesterol levels
High blood pressure
Some people who have diabetic heart disease have no signs or symptoms of heart disease. Others have some or all of the symptoms of heart disease. It’s important to talk with your doctor about reducing your risk for heart disease, even if you don’t notice any symptoms.
Lifestyle changes can help lower the risk of heart disease. These include a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and quitting smoking.
Treatments may include medications to lower your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol or to treat any heart damage that may have occurred. In some cases, surgery or another medical procedure may be needed. Learn more about heart care at Ohio State.
Diabetic Eye Problems
Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage your eyes. The most common type of damage is called diabetic retinopathy. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy damages blood vessels inside the retina and can lead to blindness. It is the leading cause of blindness in American adults.
Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy may include:
- Blurry or double vision
- Rings, flashing lights or blank spots
- Dark or floating spots
- Pain or pressure in one or both of eyes
- Poor peripheral (side) vision
- Laser treatment or surgery with follow-up care is often recommended to treat this condition.
Other eye problems related to diabetes include:
Cataract – a cloud over the lens of the eye, which is treated with surgery
Glaucoma – a pressure within the eye that can cause nerve damage. This is treated with medication or surgery. If you have diabetes, you should have a complete eye exam every year. Finding and treating eye problems early may save your vision. Learn more about ophthalmology (eye care) at Ohio State.
Diabetic Foot Problems
Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage nerves or blood vessels.
Nerve damage can cause you to lose feeling in your feet. You may not feel a cut, blister or sore. Foot injuries such as these can cause ulcers and infections.
Blood vessel damage can limit the supply of blood and oxygen to your feet. Sores or infections may be difficult to heal. In the most serious cases, amputation may be necessary.
Prevent foot problems by working with your Ohio State doctor to control your blood sugar levels and practice good foot care:
- Check your feet every day
- Wash your feet every day
- Keep the skin soft and smooth
- Smooth corns and calluses gently
- Wear properly fitting shoes and socks at all times
- Protect your feet from hot and cold
Kidneys act as a filter to remove waste products from the blood. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage your kidneys causing them to function poorly. Waste and fluids can build up in your blood instead of leaving your body.
Kidney damage from diabetes is called diabetic nephropathy. The disease can begin long before you experience symptoms. An early sign of diabetic-related kidney disease is a small amount of protein in your urine. This can be detected with a urine test. A blood test can also help determine how well your kidneys are working.
If the damage continues, your kidneys could fail. Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure in the United States. People with kidney failure need regular dialysis treatment or a kidney transplant.
You can reduce the risk of kidney disease by controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure, taking medications as prescribed and improving your nutrition.
Diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage, can result from prolonged high blood sugar levels. This condition can result in nerve impulses being delayed, slowed or sent in error. It is a common condition among people with diabetes.
Symptoms may include:
- Numbness in your hands, legs or feet
- Shooting pains, burning or tingling
- Nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea
- Problems with sexual function
- Urinary problems
- Dizziness when you change positions quickly
A physical exam and specific testing can help your doctor diagnose neuropathy. Medications can be prescribed to help relieve symptoms.
You can reduce the risk of nerve damage by controlling your blood sugar, taking medications as prescribed and improving your nutrition.
Hypoglycemia means low blood sugar (glucose).
Your body needs glucose for energy. After you eat, your blood absorbs glucose. If you eat more sugar than your body needs, your muscles and liver store the extra amount. When your blood sugar begins to fall, a hormone tells your liver to release glucose. In most people, this raises blood sugar. If it doesn’t, you have hypoglycemia, and your blood sugar can be dangerously low.
Signs of hypoglycemia include:
- Difficulty speaking
- Feeling anxious or weak
People who are taking medications to treat diabetes may experience hypoglycemia. Eating or drinking carbohydrates can help relieve symptoms. Discuss this condition with your Ohio State doctor, if it occurs often, as this may signal a need to change your treatment plan.
Some people who do not have diabetes experience episodes of low blood sugar. These episodes could be the result of medication, disease, hormone or enzyme deficiencies, or a tumor. If you experience hypoglycemia, your Ohio State doctor can help determine the cause and determine the best course of treatment for you.