Diabetes—an endocrine system disorder characterized by the body's inability to properly utilize insulin to maintain blood glucose levels—has many health side effects, and left untreated, can result in the development of a wide range of other diseases.
It's therefore vital to pay extra special attention to what your body is telling you, and undergo routine checkups on a regular basis. You may otherwise miss the warning signs, potentially jeopardizing your health.
Here are seven common diabetes-related side effects and diseases:
1. Foot Ulcers
Developing a diabetic foot ulcer is a common side effect among individuals with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. These non-healing wounds form on the bottom or side of a person’s foot, oftentimes becoming inflamed and infected. If not immediately treated, there’s a chance amputation will be necessary. It’s strongly recommended diabetics pay close attention to their feet, taking notice of any redness, swelling, callusing, or discoloration that occurs. Recognizing these symptoms early on can prevent worsening of this condition, and result in effective treatment.
2. Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease, which specifically affects the heart, potentially causing damaged blood vessels and blood clots, can also result from untreated diabetes. The nonprofit American Heart Association (AHA) “considers diabetes to be one of the seven major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease.” Others include smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The AHA also states that adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes, exemplifying the seriousness of this condition and seeking treatment early on.
3. Vision Impairment
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the federal government’s National Institutes of Health, there are two diabetic eye disorders one can develop: diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema (DME). The former often causes vision impairment, while the latter develops from swelling around the retina. Similar to foot ulcers, early detection is the key to avoiding sometimes-permanent damage. However, as the NEI points out: “Because diabetic retinopathy,” in particular, “often lacks early symptoms, people with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.”
4. Gum Disease
As the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) explains: “When diabetes is not controlled, high glucose levels in your saliva help harmful bacteria grow.” This may cause gum and dental problems, including gingivitis, candidiasis, and periodontitis, or gum disease. Moreover, developing a condition, like gum disease, could make it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood glucose. To ensure this doesn’t happen, practice good oral hygiene habits, such as thoroughly brushing your teeth and flossing every day, and keep watch for any signs of swollen and/or sensitive gums.
The 2010 report “Fatigue in Patients with Diabetes: A Review,” shared by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, explains that fatigue is a common side effect of diabetes, as well. This can make performing simple, daily tasks difficult. Your motivation will decline as a result of this extreme exhaustion. However, sleep oftentimes won’t make you feel much better, which could have other ramifications, such as a change in personality, or mood swings.
Diabetics are also at an increased risk of suffering from a stroke. According to the National Stroke Association, which develops prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs for those in the stroke community, this can be attributed to the way the body manages blood glucose to produce energy. Simply put: “People with diabetes end up with too much glucose in their blood, while their cells don’t receive enough energy.” This extra glucose in blood circulation can lead to increased fatty deposits in blood vessel walls. These deposits narrow or block the blood vessels in the brain or neck, potentially cutting off the blood supply, stopping oxygen from getting to the brain and causing a stroke.
7. Nerve Damage
The NIDDK explains that untreated diabetics can also cause various nerve disorders. The most common type of nerve damage occurs in the feet and hands (peripheral neuropathy), leading to decreased sensation, numbness, and sometimes pain in these areas. Nerves that regulate digestion, erectile function, blood pressure control, the bladder, and others can also be damaged. In fact, between 60 and 70 percent of those with diabetes develop some type of nerve damage.
Do you have diabetes? Receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be able to heal foot ulcers and reduce the need for amputation, help stroke survivors recover, and address other side effects of diabetes.