Unfortunately, the list of diabetes complications is long and far reaching. Elevated blood sugar contributes to and often accelerates a wide variety of chronic illnesses and health conditions. High blood sugar cause great damage to blood vessels, organs, nerves and other bodily systems.
The most common complications include cardiovascular disease, eye problems, diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), itchy feet and kidney disease. However, the range of issues goes well beyond these including gum disease, amputations and osteoporosis.
The wide range and severity of the complications that can be traced to diabetes is what makes the potential consequences of the disease particularly frightening. In fact, decades ago, a person’s cause of death was often linked to the diabetes complications, rather than diabetes itself. Doctors didn’t understand how poorly controlled diabetes led to more serious illnesses.
Depending on a variety of factors, including age, diabetes control, etc., the damage can be a slow process or occur rather fast. This is why there is such an emphasis on achieving glucose control through diet and exercise from the very first diagnosis. Achieving a long and good quality of life, depends on developing good habits early.
Despite diabetes’ ominous potential, learning about the complications serves to reinforce the treatment regimes necessary to reduce, if not eliminate the potential pitfalls of the disease. Among the potential type 1 and type 2 diabetes complications are:
Cardiovascular Disease: Heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death in diabetics, accounting for approximately 65% of all deaths. The most common types are coronary heart disease, resulting from fatty deposits in the arteries, and high blood pressure, or hypertension. Approximately 74% of adult diabetics have high blood pressure or use prescription medication for hypertension. High cholesterol is also a cardiovascular disease complication. Also, check out this Diabetes and Angina connection.
Diabetes Kidney Disease: Kidney disease, or diabetic nephropathy, is the leading cause of kidney failure. The condition is the slow deterioration of kidney function, which can ultimately lead to kidney failure. Diabetic kidney failure is known as end-stage renal disease or ESRD, and accounts for approximately 44% of all cases in 2005.
Diabetes Nerve Damage: Nervous system damage, or neuropathy, affects approximately 60%-70% of diabetics. The neuropathy damage varies widely in scope and type of affliction. Damage can include reduced sensation, possibly pain in hands, feet, arms and/or legs, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Amputations are also a possible result of neuropathic damage. Autonomic neuropathy, a type of nervous system disorder, can affect the autonomous nervous system, which controls breathing, sexual function (men and women), circulation, urination, digestion and temperature regulation.
Diabetic Retinopathy: Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults (20-74), approximately 12,000 to 24,000 cases a year. Retinopathy progressively destroys the small blood vessels in the eye, affecting vision. Ultimately, the disease can advance to blindness, known as proliferative retinopathy.
Dental Complications: Periodontal (gum) disease can be as high as twice the risk in diabetics. In fact, just over 30% diabetics have severe periodontal disease. This occurs because high blood glucose (sugar) helps bacteria grow. Plaque on your teeth is essentially bacteria. The more blood glucose you have, the more it helps the bacteria in your gums grow, leading to periodontal disease. Smoking also can exacerbate this condition.
Gestational Diabetes Complications: Inadequate diabetes control during conception and first pregnancy trimester can cause substantial birth defects in up to 10% of pregnancies. Diabetics also have an increased risk of spontaneous abortions, 15%-20% of pregnancies. Poor diabetes management in the third trimester can cause abnormally large babies, causing problems to the baby and mother at birth.
Diabetes Skin Problems: Diabetics are about 30% more likely to develop a skin disorder than non-diabetics. These conditions can include fungus and bacterial infections and excessive itching. Skin conditions unique or more common to diabetics also include eruptive xanthomatosis, diabetic blisters, Diabetic Dermopathy, and necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticiorum.
Osteoporosis and Diabetes: Osteoporosis is a condition where bones are more likely to fracture due to low bone density. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes is linked to causing low bone density, although scientists are not clear why. As such, diabetics have an increased risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. Calcium and vitamin D supplements are usually recommended.
Other Diabetes Complications Articles
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Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, jdrf.org, Diabetes Complications (Accessed December 2008).
American Diabetes Association, diabetes.org, Complications of Diabetes in the United States (Accessed December 2008).
American Diabetes Association, diabetes.org, Skin Complications (Accessed December 2008).
National Institute of Health, nih.org, Conditions and Behaviors that Increase Osteoporosis Risk, November 2006 (Accessed December 2008).