Avoiding Diabetes Complications: Ten Ways

The insidious thing about diabetes is that people can feel great even as the condition is wreaking havoc in their body. The havoc may not be evident for years, but once manifest it’s often chronic, progressive, and difficult to treat.

“High blood glucose affects hearing and vision, sexual and mental health, and sleep. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, amputations and kidney failure. Your risk for heart attacks and strokes is tripled,” writes nurse and diabetes educator Peggy Moreland.

“Diabetes not only affects the fine nerves in your hands and feet, it also affects the autonomic nervous system that controls the automatic functions in your body. These are functions such as your heartbeat, urination, digestion and sweating.”

Avoiding Complications

A Mayo Clinic endocrinologist once told a class that developing diabetes complications is like jumping off a tall building; people feel great until they reach the first floor.

So, here is a reminder of ten actions people can take to prevent, or delay the onset of life-altering diabetes complications:

  1. Make glucose management a priority. Educate yourself about diabetes, monitor as recommended, eat well, and exercise regularly.
  2. If you smoke, find a way to stop. Smoking greatly increases the risk for several diabetes complications including cardiovascular and kidney disease, vision loss, nerve damage, and ulcers.
  3. Schedule two to three diabetes checkups with your doctor each year, and get your eyes examined annually. Your physician and eye care professional can watch for signs of complications; early treatment is vital for good outcomes.
  4. Keep your blood pressure under control since elevated pressure damages blood vessels, and increases stroke and heart attack risk. If necessary, follow your doctor’s advice for managing triglycerides and cholesterol levels.
  5. Because high blood sugar weakens the immune system, talk to your doctor about which vaccines would benefit you (e.g., flu, pneumonia, hepatitis B). Those preferring not to vaccinate might consider using herbs or supplements that boost immune system function.
  6. Eighty percent of diabetes-related amputations are owed to ulcers, so keep a close eye on your feet. Wash them daily in lukewarm water and dry gently, especially between the toes. Keep your feet and ankles moisturized - except between the toes - and have a medical professional attend to any calluses, sores, blisters, swelling, or redness.
  7. See your dentist for a checkup every six months, or at least annually; brush and floss daily.
  8. Talk to your physician about whether daily, low-dose aspirin therapy would be right for you, to lower the risk for heart attack and stroke.
  9. Enjoy your personal interests, take time to relax, and get adequate sleep. Prolonged stress can disrupt your hormone balance, and make glucose management more difficult.
  10. If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation and with meals; remember to include the carbs in your daily total.

Even after years of disciplined care people may still find themselves facing a diabetes complication, but without that care symptoms might manifest months or years sooner.

“Your diabetes team is not making much ado about nothing.  You need regular followup care to manage your diabetes and to avoid long-term care. What floor are you on?
~ Peggy Moreland, R.N., C.D.E.

Sources: Mayo Clinic; Peggy Moreland/Mayo Clinic
Photo credit: Chris Fithall

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