How the Blood Sugar of Diabetes Affects the Body
Sugar Levels, Diabetes, and Prediabetes continued...
But diabetes is not like a switch that gets turned on and off -- healthy one day, diabetic the next. Any sugar levels higher than normal are unhealthy. A blood sugar higher than normal, but not meeting the above criteria for full-blown diabetes, is called prediabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 79 million people in the U.S. have prediabetes. People with prediabetes are five to six times more likely to develop diabetes over time. Prediabetes also increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, although not as much as diabetes does. It's possible to prevent the progression of prediabetes to diabetes, with diet and exercise.
Sugar and Your Body
Why are high blood sugar levels bad for you? Glucose is precious fuel for all the cells in your body -- when it's present at normal levels. But persistently high sugar levels behave like a slow-acting poison.
- High sugar levels slowly erode the ability of cells in the pancreas to make insulin. The pancreas overcompensates, though, and insulin levels remain overly high. Gradually, the pancreas is permanently damaged.
- All the excess sugar is modified in the blood. The elevated sugar in the blood causes changes that lead to atherosclerosis, a hardening of the blood vessels.
Because high sugar levels are everywhere, the body can be damaged anywhere. Damage to blood vessels, in particular, means no area is safe from too much sugar. High sugar levels and damaged blood vessels cause the multitude of complications that can come with diabetes:
- Kidney disease or kidney failure, requiring dialysis
- Heart attacks
- Visual loss or blindness
- Immune system suppression, with increased risk for infections
- Erectile dysfunction
- Nerve damage, called neuropathy, causing tingling, pain or decreased sensation in the feet, legs, and hands
- Poor circulation to the legs and feet, with poor wound healing
In extreme cases, because of the poor wound healing, amputation is required.
Keeping sugar levels closer to normal can prevent many of the complications of diabetes. The American Diabetes Association's goals for glucose control in people with diabetes are sugar levels of 70 to 130 mg/dL before meals, and less than 180 mg/dL after meals.