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Diabetes in Adults

How Do You Avoid Complications?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 17:51

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

People with diabetes have a high risk of many serious health problems. That's because when you have more sugar than normal in your blood, it can damage blood vessels and nerves. This can lead to:

  • Problems with eyes
  • Problems with kidneys
  • Problems with nerves, especially in the feet
  • Problems with teeth and skin

People who control their blood sugar have fewer diabetes complications. The best thing you can do for your health is to:

  • Keep testing your blood regularly.
  • Keep eating healthy food, and eating regularly.
  • Keep exercising.
  • Keep taking your medication.
  • Make sure that your blood pressure and levels of fat in your blood are normal to avoid heard disease and strokes.

You can also catch any problems early, and treat them before they become too serious.

If You Smoke - Quit!

Smoking can make the problems of diabetes far, far worse. Smokers are likely to get complications much sooner than others.

If you smoke, quit! Ask your doctor about new methods of quitting. There are now pills that can help (bupropion), as well as nicotine replacement systems such as patches or gum.

Cut Your Risk For Heart Disease

You can keep your risk of heart disease low by taking care of your health:

  • Control your weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a low-fat diet, with plenty of vegetables.

If you have pills to control blood pressure, or cholesterol, take them every day, even if you feel fine.

Care For Your Kidneys

Your doctor will check your kidneys regularly. In addition, it's important to tell the doctor any time you get symptoms of a bladder infection-having to urinate more often than usual, and feeling pain or a burning sensation when you urinate. Then the infection can be treated before it causes damage.

Care For Your Eyes

See the eye doctor at least every year. Diabetes can cause damage to the retina in the back of the eye. You may not get any symptoms, but the doctor can see if damage is starting. Early care can prevent blindness.

Care For Your Mouth

You have a higher risk of gum disease than average, and may get mouth sores that don't heal.

  • See your dentist regularly (every three to six months).
  • Brush and floss your teeth regularly.
  • See the dentist if you get any sores in the mouth.

Care for Your Feet

Your feet may not get a good blood supply, which means that sores won't heal. In addition, damage to your nerves may mean you can't feel sores, cuts, and other injuries to your feet.

  • Calluses indicate that areas of the feet are receiving too much pressure. If the increased pressure continues, the skin may break down and you may get a foot ulcer.
  • If your feet start to feel numb, tell the diabetes team, and show them your feet on every visit.
  • Check your feet every day yourself. If you have any cuts or sores that don't heal in a couple of days, tell the doctor.
  • Avoid shoes that pinch or cause blisters.
  • Always wear shoes, even in the house.
  • Wash your feet at least once a day. Dry carefully and rub with a lanolin skin cream (except between the toes).
  • Cut or file toenails straight across. If that is hard for you, have the nurse do it.
  • Don't try to treat corns or calluses yourself. Show calluses to your doctor or health care team at each visit. He or she may refer you to a podiatrist (a foot specialist).
  • Make sure bathwater won't burn your feet. Test it with your hand or elbow first.
  • If your feet are cold at night, wear socks. Don't warm them with hot water bottles or electric blankets, which may burn the feet.

Other Problems with Nerves

Tell your doctor if you start to feel other problems with your nerves. These may show up in many parts of the body. For example:

  • You may have trouble with digestion
  • Men may start to have erectile dysfunction (inability to achieve or maintain an erection).
  • You may feel dizzy when you stand up.
  • You may notice long periods of time between urinating and emptying your bladder.

Your doctor may be able to help stop the damage to the nerves before it worsens.

Depression

People with diabetes may get depressed. Keep in mind that depression can be treated. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent sad mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Feeling tired or low-energy all the time
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

Tell your health care team if you experience any of these symptoms for days at a time. You may need medication or counseling.

There are support groups available for people with diabetes. Sometimes talking with others who share your condition can help you cope and feel less alone. Talk to your doctor about finding a support group in your area.

How-To Information:

Summary Chart

Use this chart as a reminder of all the aspects of a diabetes treatment plan.

What

When

Exercise

At least 3 times a week for 30 minutes

Check blood sugar

At least twice a day if takingĀ insulin; ask your doctor is taking only pills

Check your skin for sores

Every day

Check feet

Every day (and have diabetes team check them at each visit)

Check blood pressure

Every time you see the doctor

Check cholesterol

Once or twice a year

Check kidneys

Report any problems such as bladder infection promptly

See dentist

Every 3 to 6 months

See eye doctor

At least every year

Hemoglobin A1C blood test

Every 3 months

When in doubt, talk to health care team.

Diabetes in Adults