Fort Berthold Diabetes Program

Diabetes Complications

By Jared Eagle- Program Director

People with diabetes are at lifelong risk for complications.  Diabetes complications often share the same risk factors, and one complication can make other complications worse.  For example, many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure, which in turn worsens eye and kidney diseases. Diabetes tends to lower HDL “good” cholesterol and raise triglycerides and LDL “bad” cholesterol. These changes can increase the risk for heart disease and stroke. Smoking doubles the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes.  

  • Heart disease and stroke: People with diabetes are two times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke as people without diabetes.
  • Blindness and other eye problems:
    • Damage to blood vessels in the retina (diabetic retinopathy)
    • Clouding of the lens (cataract)
    • Increase in fluid pressure in the eye (glaucoma)
  • Kidney disease: High blood sugar levels can damage the kidneys and cause chronic kidney disease (CKD).  If not treated, CKD can lead to kidney failure. A person with kidney failure needs regular dialysis a kidney transplant to survive. About 1 in 3 adults with diabetes has CKD. You won’t know if you have CKD unless your doctor tests you for it.
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy): One of the most common diabetes complications, nerve damage can cause numbness and pain. Nerve damage most often affects the feet and legs but can also affect your digestion, blood vessels, and heart.
  • Amputations: Diabetes-related damage to blood vessels and nerves, especially in the feet, can lead to serious, hard-to-treat infections. Amputation can be necessary to stop the spread of infection.
  • Gum disease can lead to tooth loss and increased blood sugar, making diabetes harder to manage. Gum disease can also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Diabetes increases the risk of depression, and that risk grows as more diabetes-related health problems develop.
  • Gestational diabetes, diagnosed during pregnancy, can cause serious complications for mothers or their babies, such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure caused by pregnancy), injury from giving birth, and birth defects.

Studies now show the risk of death or complications related to COVID-19 are four times greater for people with diabetes.  While people with diabetes are not more likely to get COVID-19, they are at an increased risk for having complications from the virus.  Statistics have shown increased risk of hospitalization, increased risk of ICU stay, and increased risk of death for people with diabetes.  Elevated blood sugars make it harder for people with diabetes to fight off the infection.  People with diabetes are encouraged to take care of their health before they get sick.  If you have managed your sugar well then your risk of having harm or complications from COVID is much less in comparison to someone who has their sugars that are higher and poor control.  While it is different for every person, it generally comes down to diet, exercise, and compliance with medication.  Social distancing, wearing your mask, washing your hands, and making smart social decisions are the best things you can do to avoid COVID related infection and possible complications.  People with diabetes are also encouraged to have a “sick day” plan prepared for the day when they get an infection and their sugars start to elevate.

Prevention, early detection, monitoring, and treatment of complications is the best thing you can do in managing your diabetes.  Watching what you eat, making time for physical activity, taking your medication, and checking your blood sugar are all key elements of prevention. Everyone’s diabetes is different, some people will still have complications even with good management. If you feel discouraged and frustrated, you may slip into unhealthy habits, stop monitoring your blood sugar, and even skip doctors appointments. The Diabetes Program can help you get back on track, from setting goals and reminding you of your progress to offering new ideas and strategies.  

Please stop by or give us a call if you have any other questions.  You can also make an appointment with our dietitian or nurse case manager to address any questions that you might have.  You can contact the Diabetes Program at 627-7931.