Diabetes Complications


stk65059corIf you’ve been living with diabetes for some time now, you probably know what it feels like when your blood glucose drops too low. Sudden sweating and chills, shakiness, and weakness are ways your body tells you that you need sugar right now. You’ve learned that when you feel that way you need to take glucose tablets or drink some juice. If you don’t, your blood glucose can keep dropping and you might pass out.

Diabetes can affect your entire body; over many years, it can lead to complications. High blood glucose levels can damage your eyes, the nerves in your feet and legs, and your blood vessels. Keeping your blood glucose as close to normal as possible can lower your risk for complications. Getting regular check-ups can help you find complications early, when they can be treated.

Although it is scary to think about complications, knowing the symptoms means you can talk with your healthcare provider as soon as you notice them. Keep notes for your provider about when you first had the symptom, or if anything made it better or worse. After all, no one knows your body better than you do.

Your Eyes

female-eyesThe retina is in the back of your eye, and works like the film in an old camera. It allows light from the outside world to form a picture that is sent to your brain. Your retina has many tiny, fragile blood vessels. High blood glucose causes the blood vessel walls to get weaker. As a result, blood can leak into the back of the eye and make it harder for you to see.

Because damage to your eyes from diabetes is not always noticeable, it is recommended that people with diabetes have their eyes dilated and checked once a year. If your healthcare provider finds damage to the blood vessels, they can treat it. Finding the damage early can lower your chances of losing your vision. It is also important to call your eye doctor right away if you notice any changes in your vision.

Your Feet and Legs

female-feet-legsHigh blood glucose levels can cause damage to your nerves. This is known as “neuropathy.” Damage to your nerves can cause you to be either more or less sensitive. You may feel pain or have areas where you feel nothing at all. It can also make it harder for you to feel heat or cold. Neuropathy tends to happen most often in the feet or the legs. This is because these nerves are the longest in the body and the farthest from your spine.

You can imagine that when you have neuropathy, it is hard to know if your bathwater is too hot or if you have a rock in your shoe. You can end up with burns or blisters that take a long time to heal, or that become infected. If you feel tingling or a pins and needles in your feet, more or less feelings of pain, or any unusual numbness or weakness, ask your healthcare provider about how you can prevent more damage to your feet and legs. Because diabetes affects blood flow, sores or infections can take longer to heal. Preventing problems is always a better option than treating them.

Speaking of blood flow, another problem that can affect your feet and legs is called “peripheral arterial disease,” or PAD. PAD happens when the blood vessels become narrow or blocked, and less blood flows to your feet and legs. PAD is more common among people with diabetes, but you are especially at risk if you smoke. If you needed another reason to quit smoking, let this be it.

The symptoms of PAD are similar to those of neuropathy. Numbness, tingling, or feeling cold in your legs and feet are symptoms of PAD. Your skin may look more pale than normal, or even turn blue. You may feel shooting leg pains, especially when you walk or exercise. You may not be able to walk very far without pain. PAD is not just your muscles telling you that you’re tired. Reduced blood flow is serious. Talk to your healthcare provider about these symptoms so you can get the treatment you need.

Your Heart and Blood Vessels

your heartDiabetes can damage the blood vessels that flow to your heart and brain. People with diabetes are twice as likely to die of heart disease as people without diabetes. The good news is that you can lower your risk by meeting the following targets:

  1. Blood pressure less than 140/80 mmHg.
  2. Total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL or less, or LDL cholesterol of less than100 mg/dL and HDL cholesterol or 45 – 55 mg/dL or higher.  Triglycerides of 150 mg/dL or lower.
  3. Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or less.
  4. Getting 30 minutes of exercise, 3 – 5 times a week.
  5. Not smoking.

How Can I Prevent Complications?

Although you need to be aware of diabetes complications, there is good news. Most of the complications are linked with high blood glucose levels over time. You can do a lot to lower your risk by keeping your blood glucose levels as close to normal as is safe for you. There are new and better treatments than ever before and more research is being done every day. Yes, it is hard to hear about the complications. But being aware of the symptoms helps you get the treatment you need in time. And, this way, you can keep them from becoming worse. The more you know, the more you can do to have a longer and healthier future.



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Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and www.NutritionStarringYOU.com. Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded NutritionBabes.com, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. NutritionBabes.com was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE is a clinical health psychologist and the director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH). In addition to treating patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Heyman provides training for health care providers on how to identify and address the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes in their patients. He also works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help them understand these issues and incorporate this information into their sales, marketing, and patient education materials. He is particularly interested in empirically supported behavioral interventions that promote behavior change and improve physical and mental health in people with diabetes.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author with an expertise in nutrition communications and curriculum development. She is the co-author of “Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing” (McGraw Hill, 2014) and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco and University of San Diego’s graduate schools of nursing.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

Dr. Bev is the author of two self-help diabetes books. She has written numerous articles which are published in print and online – always focused on diabetes from the emotional perspective. She also speaks to audiences of people living with diabetes, as well as, to audiences of healthcare professionals and diabetes educators. Dr. Bev, herself, has been living successfully with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years.

In August 2016, Dr. Bev was honored to receive the “CDE Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from her Metropolitan NY Association of Diabetes Educators.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert with more than two decades experience. Through writing, speaking and one-on-one coaching, Jill empowers people to grab control of their health. She has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is known for her practical approach and caring attitude. Her no-nonsense strategies to eating well include foods that both taste good and are good for you.

Marlene Koch (pronounced ‘cook’) is a nationally recognized nutritionist, popular TV personality and New York Times bestselling author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. She is a registered dietitian and one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Marlene has taught professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation the principles of healthy cooking and eating. She has been adjunct Nutrition professor and cooking instructor for Columbus State College and the Columbus State Culinary Academy, and she is a nationally recognized expert in weight loss, diabetes, child and adolescent nutrition, and sugar substitutes.

Marlene has sold over one million cookbooks, and is a regular guest on QVC.

Barbara Ruhs – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm focused on providing solutions to help food companies and supermarkets improve consumer health & wellness. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and has run a successful business for 17 years. A leader in the field of nutrition, her mission is to help people by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and sold. She’s a strong advocate for supermarket dietitians and believes the retail food industry has the greatest potential to impact public health.

Cheryl Orlansky has over 25 years of experience in health promotion and chronic disease prevention and management. Her first career as a registered dental hygienist led her towards a path of wellness and nutrition! Her expertise is in diabetes, weight management and cardiovascular disease for individuals and groups. She works in a large private practice including endocrinology, internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology and sleep medicine. She is an award winning dietitian with current leadership positions in state and local dietetics organizations.

She has been interviewed and quoted in media outlets for WebMD, Atlanta Sports and Fitness, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She has partnered with V-103 Radio to lead supermarket tours as part of a community outreach during National Nutrition Month.

Cheryl helps her clients reach balance through lifestyle choices: cooking and eating, activity and purpose in life.

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and classically-trained chef. With a passion for helping people (including her father) with diabetes, she’s author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook, both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie is also author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes and Big Green Cookbook. Her next book, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook—2nd Edition, was published in 2015.

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet. She holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is also a Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

OmnichannelHealth Media, publisher of DiabetesDigest.com, does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.