Fort Berthold Diabetes Program

Diabetes Complications

By Delia Howling Wolf – Medical Support Assistant

Diabetes is a serious disease that can affect many different parts of the body. Because the body uses insulin to break down glucose it doesn’t matter if you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, complications are still a possibility.  If you know what to look for, and you watch out for them consistently, then you should be able to take steps to prevent them from becoming a problem.  Knowing what these complications are definitely the first step.

If you notice any complications that you think may be coming from your diabetes, it is important that you talk to your doctor right away.  Your doctor will be able to tell you if the complication you think you are experiencing is a concern, as well as advise you on what steps you need to take in order to stay healthy.

Type 2 Diabetes is a condition that generally requires some significant management, whether it’s checking your blood sugar or keeping up with doctor’s appointments.  Managing the condition itself, you have to deal with the risk of complications related to type 2 diabetes.  For example, living with type 2 diabetes means you are at an increased risk of complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure and foot problems.  Good self-care is key to managing the condition effectively and reducing your risk of complications.  

Heart Disease – People with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of heart disease.  Paying attention to the main risk factors for heart disease, and addressing them, may help decrease the risk.  Some risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and physical inactivity, not eating a healthy diet, smoking, being overweight or obese and drinking too much alcohol.  If left unaddressed, these risk factors can increase your chance of heart disease.  The best way to reduce the risk is to set personal health goals and achieve them, such as exercising regularly and eating a well balance healthy diet.  Medication can be used to treat conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  

Stroke – People with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have a stroke than people who don’t have the condition.  Some warning signs of a stroke include: numbness on one side of your body, dizziness, confusion, headaches, and difficulty speaking and vision problems.  If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.  The sooner a stroke is detected and treated the less damage it may do to your brain. Lifestyle habits such as exercising regularly and eating healthfully can also make a difference.

Kidney Disease – This is another complication that can affect people with type 2 diabetes.  This is because of the connection between blood sugar, also called blood glucose and the kidneys.  When blood glucose levels are too high, the kidneys struggle to filter blood and blood vessels within the kidneys are damaged. Some symptoms of kidney disease include fluid buildup, weakness, nausea, loss of sleep and trouble concentrating.  These symptoms often don’t occur until kidney function is significantly impaired, which makes kidney disease difficult to detect.  Managing your blood sugar levels is key to lowering the risk of kidney disease.  High blood pressure also increases the risk of kidney problems.  If you have high blood pressure your doctor can talk to you about options to lower it.

High blood pressure – Seeing your doctor regularly can help you stay on top of managing type 2 diabetes and monitoring your pressure.  It should be checked at every doctor visit.  If left untreated, high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, vision problems and kidney disease.  By maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight you can lower your blood pressure.  Try to eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, and take time to relax.  Follow a low sodium diet, and avoid tobacco and alcohol.

Eye Disease – People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing eye problems like glaucoma and cataracts. Another complication that can affect the eyes is called retinopathy.  This condition occurs when high levels of sugar in the blood cause damage to the retina’s blood vessels.  If left untreated, retinopathy in its most severe form can cause complete loss of vision.  There are new treatment options that can prevent blindness in most cases but it’s better to take steps to prevent the condition altogether.  

Foot problems – Most diabetes-related foot issues are cause by nerve damage, sometimes referred to as neuropathy.  Neuropathy causes unpleasant sensations in the feet, such as tingling, burning, and stinging.  Neuropathy can also decrease your ability to feel sensations such as pain, heat and cold. This increases a person’s risk to injuries that can lead to infection.  In some cases, neuropathy may change the shape of feet and toes, requiring special shoes or insoles.  Keeping blood sugar levels in a healthy range can reduce your risk of neuropathy.  It may also help to exercise regularly and wear comfortable shoes.  If you are a smoker, consider quitting as soon as possible; ask your doctor about smoking cessation therapies, medications and programs that can help.

Taking charge of your health includes making small lifestyle changes to keep your blood sugar under control to halt or even reverse a diabetes complication.  Others need medication or even surgery to manage complications and prevent them from getting worse.  Treatment of complications focuses on slowing down the damage.  That may include medication, surgery or other options.  But the most important ways to slow down diabetes complications are to keep your blood sugar levels under control, eat right, exercise, lose weight, avoid smoking and get high blood pressure and high cholesterol treated.

If you would like to make an appointment with any of our diabetes staff, please call (701) 627-7931.