Diabetes is an extremely common disease and is reaching almost epidemic numbers. Because of its common occurrence, many people have begun to dismiss it as trivial. In fact, the long term effects of diabetes are numerous and extremely serious.
Our pancreas is a gland organ responsible for producing insulin, a hormone that allows our body to utilize sugars from the food we eat for the energy we need on a daily basis. If our body cannot properly use the insulin made or cannot even produce insulin, we are diagnosed with diabetes.
There are three types of diabetes – Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational diabetes. Because I will be discussing the long term effects of diabetes, I will be referring to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. (Gestational diabetes occurs during a woman’s pregnancy and is therefore, temporary.)
Individuals diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes are considered to be insulin-dependent. Their bodies are unable to produce insulin and as a result, must receive insulin shots on a regular basis in order to control their blood sugar levels. Approximately 10% of diabetics fall into this category.
Type 2 diabetics cannot produce enough insulin or cannot effectively use the insulin produced. The majority of diabetics fall into this category. Living a sedentary lifestyle and eating a poor diet can cause type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, a specific diet and exercise can be used to treat diabetes without medication. Sometimes medications like Metformin are needed to keep the disease managed.
Like mentioned previously, no matter the type of diabetes you have been diagnosed with, it does need to be taken seriously as the impacts on the body can be severe and sometimes even irreversible.
So what effects can uncontrolled sugar levels have on your system?
#1. Eye Diseases
Poorly controlled glucose levels can result in serious issues with your vision. It may begin with blurred vision or difficulty seeing at night but can even result in total vision loss or even blindness.
Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the retina ( a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye that receives light). Therefore, it is extremely important that if you are diabetic that you visit your optometrist diligently every year for a thorough dilated eye exam.
#2. Poor Circulation
High levels of glucose in one’s blood can damage blood vessels. And because the blood vessels are obviously responsible for circulating the blood throughout the body, damaged vessels result in poor circulation. This is most clearly evident in the arms, hands, legs, and feet.
Without proper circulation, an individual may begin to experience infections in his/her skin, and even ulcers (dermatology). This can be very painful and in some cases, can even lead to amputation.
#3. Nerve Damage
Nerve damage can occur when blood sugar levels are not properly managed. This is predominantly seen in the legs and feet but can also appear in the hands and fingers. It may begin as a tingling sensation or a burning, aching type of pain. It can even progress to partial or total numbness.
Consequently, many diabetics who suffer from nerve damage may also become injured and not even be aware of it right away. For example, if you have numbness in your feet and step on a tack or cut yourself, you very well may not feel it. This increases the chances of infection to set in and if such infections are not treated properly, amputations may even be necessary.
#4. Cardiovascular Disease
As mentioned previously, unmanaged blood glucose levels can cause damage to one’s blood vessels and nerves. Therefore, it is no surprise that with such damage, a diabetic increases his chances of cardiovascular disease. As the blood vessels become damaged, they also become lined with plaque – reducing the blood flow to and from the heart. This can result in an increased rate of heart attack and stroke.
#5. Kidney Disease
Our kidneys are responsible for regulating and filtering minerals from our blood but also for removing toxins from our body. If a person’s blood sugar levels are out of control for a sustained period of time, the kidneys can become damaged. And obviously damaged kidneys cannot do their job properly.
Minerals may begin to build up resulting in painful kidney stones. Also, wastes can begin to accumulate in your system. Kidney failure can lead to a myriad of other health issues like extreme fatigue, swelling of the extremities, shortness of breath, and even seizures to name a few.
#6. Cognitive Disorders and Alzheimer’s Disease
Our brains are not exempt from the effects of out of control glucose levels. One of the long term effects of diabetes is being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Individuals may not see symptoms immediately as it can be one of those things that we dismiss. “Oh, I am getting older so it is normal to forget where I put my keys.” The reality is because of those damaged blood vessels and a decreased flow of blood to the brain, the brain can not perform optimally.
It is important to keep your blood sugar levels managed and also to use different strategies to keep your brain working. It has been proven that doing these things can help keep such cognitive issues at bay.
#7. Dental Issues
Again, because of the potential for reduced blood flow to the teeth and gums, one may experience tooth decay or even infections of their gums. It is important to have strict dental hygiene routines but also be sure to be visiting your dentist on a regular basis.
The long term effects of diabetes are numerous and can often be extreme if your blood sugar levels are not properly managed. Be sure to be testing on a regular basis and diligently paying attention to any changes in your body.
It is definitely possible to live a so-called “normal” life if you are diabetic. Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and learn how to cut those sugar cravings. (BTW, even if you aren’t currently diagnosed with diabetes, your body will reap the benefits of quitting sugar)