People with diabetes are at risk for a variety of complications. While the list is long and, frankly, alarming, it should be remembered that many people with diabetes can take precautions to prevent many of these problems, and new methods to reduce the risk of complications are the subjects of many on-going clinical trials and research studies.
Hypoglycemia Symptoms and Causes
Hypoglycemia is the indication that one’s blood sugar level has fallen below normal. It can be caused by a variety of circumstances, including injecting too much insulin, skipping meals, or eating at the wrong times. Alcohol consumption or sudden exercise can also cause blood sugar levels to drop. Anyone with diabetes will experience hypoglycemia at some point.
Hypoglycemia symptoms include the following:
- Sweating and shakiness
- Headache and impaired vision
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Increase in heart rate
Prevention is the best defense against hypoglycemia. Careful attention to blood sugar testing and meal planning reduces the chance that low blood sugar will occur.
Hyperglycemia is the opposite of hypoglycemia: it indicates high blood sugar levels. Like hypoglycemia, it is a common complication that everyone with diabetes experiences at some point. Left unchecked, it can cause the body serious damage. Hyperglycemia is caused by not getting enough insulin or getting the wrong dose, a lack of exercise, eating too many carbohydrates, sickness or emotional stress. Liver sugars can also push blood sugar to dangerous levels.
While hypoglycemia symptoms are likely to be apparent, symptoms of hyperglycemia can be hard to spot. The person suffering from hyperglycemia may not even notice anything is wrong.
Symptoms resulting from high blood sugar levels include:
- Hunger or thirst
- Frequent urination
- Dry skin
- Itchy skin
- High rates of infection
- Blurred vision
- Diminished ability to heal scrapes, cuts or other wounds.
Like hypoglycemia, the best precautions involve careful attention to medications and meal plans, and frequent monitoring of blood sugar levels.
Diabetic Retinopathy and Other Eye Disorders
Diabetic retinopathy is one of a group of eye disorders that can affect people with diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is a very common complication: damaged blood vessels in the eye’s retina swell and leak. As they heal, new blood vessels grow on the retina, hindering vision and or causing blindness. Blindness is four times as likely in diabetes sufferers.
People with diabetes are also at risk for eye disorders such as glaucoma and cataracts. These are serious complications. The best preventive actions are to control blood sugar, reduce blood pressure, and get an annual eye exam. Caught early enough, many eye disorders can be treated.
Cardiovascular, Kidney and Nerve Problems
Excess blood sugar puts a strain on blood vessels, nerves and the kidneys. Blood vessels damaged by high glucose levels hinder circulation and allow cholesterol to build up. Strokes, heart disease and kidney disorders may all occur as a result.
Damaged nerves reduce feeling and sensitivity to touch, making the chance of injury more likely. The strain put on the body’s defenses by diabetes makes infections more likely, and open wounds often take longer to heal than they normally would.
Foot Problems and Foot Pain
Foot problems are common complications with diabetes. The nerves in the feet are long and susceptible to damage caused by high blood sugar levels. The ability to feel foot pain and injury diminishes with nerve deterioration, until it may not even be noticed at all. When deteriorating nerves are coupled with reduced circulation and higher rates of infection, the possibility of a foot injury becoming ulcerated increases markedly. Left unchecked, foot ulcers can lead to amputation.
Diabetics should check their feet daily for wounds, corns, or oddly colored calluses. Even ingrown toenails should receive prompt medical attention. Pain in the legs, redness and swelling of the foot, or a change in foot shape are all indications that something is wrong.
To reduce the risk of foot problems, people with diabetes should wear appropriate footwear, avoiding footwear that is worn, broken, too tight or rubs against the foot. Diabetics should avoid walking barefoot, which increases the chances of foot injuries. Care should be taken while trimming toenails, as even a small wound can cause ulcers. A doctor should check blood circulation and nerve sensitivity at least annually.
Note that in some instances, severe foot pain instead of numbness results from the nerve damage caused by diabetes. Diabetics often describe their foot pain as a severe burning sensation.
Damaged nerves and high rates of infection can also cause diabetes-related skin problems. Wounds heal more slowly, and are more likely to become infected. Damaged nerves cause the body to sweat less, leading to dry, cracked skin. The skin sometimes yellows and thickens.
Skin problems can be prevented, or at least minimized, by following a few simple guidelines.
- Avoid exposure to wind and sun where possible, and use a high quality sunscreen.
- Use moisturizers that contain gentle ingredients.
- Avoid harsh cleansers or perfumes.
- Drink at least eight cups of water each day to help keep skin hydrated.