Having diabetes is not a death sentence. In fact, an article published in the journal BMJ in September 2017 suggests that good management and weight loss can effectively reverse the symptoms of the disease. However, poorly managed type 2 diabetes can cause certain complications, which can lead to increased health care costs, increased stress and possibly reduced life expectancy.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you probably know the most important complications that diabetes can put at risk: heart disease, kidney disease, neuropathy (or nerve damage) and amputation. However, complications associated with poor blood sugar can affect other parts of the body.
Long-term complications of diabetes develop gradually, but they can eventually be disabling or even life-threatening. Some of the possible complications of diabetes are:
- Heart and Blood Vessel Disease
Diabetes significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and narrowing of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis).
- Kidney Damage
Uncontrolled diabetes can cause a lot of stress on kidney function, and over time it can cause kidney disease (also called diabetic nephropathy). This is because the kidneys are responsible for filtering waste products from the blood (waste products are excreted in the urine) and maintaining an important balance of various substances (salts and water) in the blood. In diabetes, a blood sugar level that is too high can cause the kidneys to work too hard and damage the organs. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and accounts for half of all cases of kidney failure.
- Nerve Damage (neuropathy)
Excess sugar can cause tingling, numbness, burning sensation or pain, which usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingertips, can slowly spread upward. Eventually, you may lose all sense of feeling in the affected limbs.
The nerve damage that regulates digestion can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation problems. Erectile dysfunction can be a problem for men.
- Eye Damage
Diabetes increases the risk of serious eye disorders, such as cataracts and glaucoma, can damage the blood vessels of the retina and cause blindness.
- Slow Healing
If left untreated, cuts and blisters can become serious infections and cause poor healing. Severe damage may require amputation of the toes, feet or legs.
- Hearing Impairment
According to a study published in July 2011 in the journal Diabetes Care for the treatment of diabetes, hearing loss is more than double in people with type 2 diabetes than in people without it. Signs of hearing loss include difficulty hearing what people are saying to you, needing to turn up the TV and radio volume, feeling that people around you are always mumbling, and struggling to keep up with conversations in a crowded or noisy room.
Keep in mind that hearing loss can only occur in one ear. Reeder-McIntosh recommends that if you have difficulties with any of these tasks, contact your audiologist to check your hearing function. This also helps prevent other health problems related to hearing loss.
- Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is common in people with type 2 diabetes, but obesity is the most important factor for both conditions. Treating sleep apnea can lower blood pressure and help you stay calm, but it is not clear if this helps improve blood sugar.
- Alzheimer’s Disease
Type 2 diabetes seems to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease for not clear reasons. The worse the blood sugar control, the greater the risk.
- Skin Conditions
“Raising blood sugar increases the risk of infection,” says Reeder-McIntosh. According to the ADA, there may be more skin infections, such as styes, boils, infected hair follicles, nail infections and deeper skin infections called carbuncles.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin infections include hard and thickened skin, darker skin that may feel velvety, and yellow, red, or brown patches on your skin.
In addition to controlling blood sugar, following a daily recommended skin care routine can also help prevent skin infections from type 2 diabetes. This includes keeping skin clean and dry, keeping sores and cuts clean and covered, and moisturizing skin.