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The Risks and Complications of Uncontrolled Diabetes

If not controlled, diabetes can put you at risk for a host of complications that can affect nearly every organ in the body. They include:

  • The heart and blood vessels
  • The eyes
  • The kidneys
  • The nerves
  • The gums and teeth

Heart Disease, Blood Vessel Disease, and Diabetes

Heart disease and blood vessel disease are the biggest complications that people with uncontrolled diabetes face. In 2004, approximately 68% of diabetes-related death certificates among people aged 65 years or older were related to heart disease, with stroke being noted in 16% of death certificates.  Diabetes can also cause poor blood flow in the legs and feet (peripheral artery disease).

Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about two to four times higher than adults without diabetes.The risk for stroke is two to four times higher .

Many studies show that controlling diabetes can prevent or stop the progression of heart and blood vessel disease.

Blood vessel damage or nerve damage (see below) may also lead to foot problems that can lead to amputations. More than 60% of leg and foot amputations not related to an injury are due to diabetes.

Diabetes and the Eyes

Diabetes is the leading cause of new blindness in the U.S. in adults ages 20-74. It can cause a number of eye problems, some of which can lead to blindness if not addressed. The eye disorders include:

  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Diabetic retinopathy

Studies show that regular eye exams and timely treatment of diabetes-related eye problems could prevent up to 90% of diabetes-related blindness.

Kidney Disease and Diabetes

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure in adults in the U.S., accounting for 44% of new cases in 2008.Drugs that lower blood pressure (even if you don't have high blood pressure) can lower risk of kidney failure by 33%.

Diabetes and Your Nerves

Over time, high blood sugar levels can harm the nerves. This can lead to loss of sensation or feeling (usually starting in the toes) or pain and burning of the feet. Approximately 60-70% of people with  diabetes have some form of nerve damage.

Diabetes-related nerve damage can also cause pain in the legs, arms, and hands, and can cause problems with digestion, going to the bathroom, or having sex.

Diabetes and Your Teeth

People with diabetes are at high risk for gum disease. Keeping your diabetes under control, seeing your dentist regularly, and taking good daily care of your teeth can prevent gum disease and tooth loss.

The Cause of Diabetes Complications

Diabetes complications are caused by damage to the blood vessels, nerves, or both.

Symptoms of Diabetes Complications

Symptoms vary depending on the diabetes complication that you have. You may have:

  • No symptoms if you have heart disease or atherosclerosis of a large blood vessel, unless you have a heart attack or stoke. Disease of the large blood vessels in your legs may cause problems with blood circulation, leading to leg cramps, changes in skin color, and decreased sensation.
  • Vision problems, vision loss, or pain in your eye if you have diabetic eye disease
  • No symptoms if you have early diabetes-related kidney disease. Swelling of the legs and feet occur in more advanced stages of kidney failure.
  • Tingling, numbness, burning, or shooting or stabbing pain in the feet, hands, or other parts of your body, if the nerves are affected by diabetes (peripheral diabetic neuropathy). If the nerves that control internal organs are damaged (autonomic neuropathy), you may have sexual problems, digestive problems (a condition called gastroparesis); difficulty sensing when your bladder is full; dizziness, fainting, or difficulty knowing when your blood sugar is low.

WebMD Medical Reference

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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