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Diabetes Information


About Diabetes
What causes Diabetes
Do you have Diabetes?
Are you at risk for Diabetes?
Screening for Diabetes
Complications of Diabetes
Treating Diabetes

Complications of diabetes

      The extent to which a patient experiences short and long term complications of diabetes largely depends on whether the disease has been diagnosed and how closely the blood sugar is being kept in check. Diabetes remains undiagnosed in many people who have not experienced any symptoms, leading to increased complications as the disease affects many other organs in the body.

Short term complications - medical emergencies requiring emergency care and long term complications - those that develop over time and can be disabling and life threatening are common with diabetes.

Short term complications of diabetes

1) Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

A patient is considered hypoglycemic when their blood glucose level drops below 60 mg/dL. Hypoglycemia is common in those people taking insulin and those who use other medications that enhance the action of insulin. Signs of hypoglycemia include weakness, shakiness, dizziness, hunger, sweating and nausea. Blood sugar levels can drop for a number of reasons, including strenuous exercise, skipping meals or medications. Signs of low blood sugar can be managed by eating or drinking something that will quickly raise blood sugar, like a piece of candy, fruit juice or soda pop. If blood glucose levels drop too low, a person can fall into a coma. This life threatening condition can be treated with a shot of glucagon, which is a hormone that is injected and stimulates the release of sugar into the bloodstream. For those at risk, a glucagen kit should always be readily available.



2) Diabetic hyperosmolar syndrome (high blood sugar)

This condition results from extremely high levels of blood sugar (over 600 mg/dL), making the blood thick and syrupy. This condition is most common in those patients with Type 2 diabetes and those who drink large amounts of alcohol, take steroids or have infections. Excessive thirst and urination, leg cramps, convulsions, confusion and weakness are all signs of excessively high blood sugar. High blood sugar can be life threatening and demands immediate medical attention.

3) Diabetic ketoacidosis (increased blood acids)

If a body is starved for energy, it will break down fat which results in the production of toxic acids called ketones. Loss of appetite, fever, stomach pain, nausea and sweetness of breath are all symptoms. This is most common in patients with Type 1 diabetes. Patients can purchase blood ketones test kits to test themselves at home. The presence of high ketones can be life threatening and emergency medical attention is required.

Long term complications of diabetes

1) Neuropathy (nerve damage)

Over 50% of diabetics have some degree of nerve damage. Experts believe this is the result of excess sugar in the body damaging capillaries that nourish nerves. It is common for diabetics to experience nerve damage in the legs and arms, causing numbness, tingling or burning sensations from the toes and finders, up to the legs and arms. If left untreated, complete loss of sensation in the arms and legs can result. Also common is nerve damage to the digestive system, leading to symptoms of nausea, diarrhea, constipation and vomiting.

2) Nephropathy (kidney damage)

Diabetes can damage the filtering process of the kidneys. Kidneys filter waste from the body and eject it in urine. Symptoms include swollen ankles, feet and hands, shortness of breath, high blood pressure and anemia. By the time these symptoms occur, serious kidney damage may have already occurred. Type 1 diabetes patients are particularly at risk, as a result of the presence of diabetes for a longer period than those with Type 2 diabetes. Severe kidney damage can lead to both kidney failure and renal disease.

3) Retinopathy (eye damage)

Diabetic retinopathy results from the deterioration of blood vessels in the retina. This occurs in close to 100% of patients with Type 1 diabetes and over 60% of those with Type 2 diabetes over a period of 20 years. Patients with diabetes are at increased risk for cataracts and glaucoma. Diabetes is the number one cause of blindness in the American adult population.

4) Cardiovascular disease (heart and blood vessel damage)

Cardiovascular problems, such as chest pain (angina), heart attack, stroke, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and the narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis) are all common in patients with diabetes.

5) Infections

Because high blood sugar levels negatively impact the immune system, diabetics can be more at risk for serious infections, including those affecting the kidneys, bladder, genitals, lungs, skin and mouth.




Read more from the National Institute of Diabetes. For Americans living with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association offers useful information, resources and support.




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