HEALTH: Diabetes

Harriet Kaufman Adwoa,

 Registered Nurse, RN
 Masters in Science Nursing, MSN


Many people will first go to the doctor with complaint of these other illnesses which are in fact caused by long term, out – of - control diabetes. In this case it really doesn’t matter whether you have Type 1 or 2 diabetes because both can lead to these chronic illnesses. Sugar makes the blood thick which in turn affects the entire circulation system of the body so you may see problems at any area.

Heart disease
This has been considered the number one killer in diabetes related death. As well as having diabetes as a risk factor, other risks include obesity, smoking, high cholesterol and a diet heavy in saturated fat foods. This happens because the effects of the sugar clogging the large vessels around the heart cause the heart to work harder. It is most crucial to stop smoking if you smoke and work to change your diet to one that includes lots of fresh vegetables and lean meats (chicken or fish). Exercise helps to improve circulation so if you do not do some form of exercise this is a good time to start.

Dental problems
This occurs as a result of poor circulation and affects the bone as well as the teeth. You may note that your gums bleed easily and are puffy as well as having bad breath and loose, rotting teeth. The best thing for this is to clean your teeth well two to three times a day. Always use the softest type toothbrush available. If you use a chew stick it may cause more bleeding of the gums. Gargle with salt water to strengthen the gums and as a way to prevent infection from occurring.

Skin infections
People with diabetes tend to have more problems with their skin because of both dehydration and the increased amount of sugar in the blood. Sugar especially stimulates the growth of fungi so you may have athlete’s foot, vaginal yeast infections, severe dandruff or some other skin infection. Diabetics also tend to get boils and sore in the legs that don’t seem to heal. Again this is due to the fact that with so much sugar in the blood the circulation is poor and healing cannot occur. If you have these problems it’s best to avoid perfumed soaps as they tend to cause further irritation. Be sure to remove all the soapy residue with clean water and dry yourself well. Keep a handkerchief or small towel with you to keep yourself dry during the day. Perspiration will also irritate the skin. Use a non-scented moisture cream that doesn’t contain alcohol – the best being shea butter or cocoa butter. Women experiencing yeast infections should wear cotton underwear as well as men who experience “jock” itch. Also wear natural fibers such as cotton as those allow the skin to breathe.

Kidney disease
This is caused by damage to the small blood vessels that are important in the filtering of blood through the kidney and is seen in 20 – 30% of people with diabetes. Other contributing factors are genetics (passed from generation to generation), high blood pressure, a diet high in protein and smoking. If you have recurring urinary tract infections you should inform your doctor and have them check for further kidney damage.
Damage can be curtailed by changing the diet, stopping smoking, stress reduction (especially if you have high blood pressure) and blood sugar management.

Nervous system damage
This is seen in about 60 – 70% of people with diabetes and is cause by damage to the small blood vessels that supply blood to the nerves that control our body. What you might notice is cramping, tingling or numbness to the feet (more common) or hands. Many people do further damage to their feet (or hands) with numbness as they don’t know when they are hurting themselves. Damage to the nerves is also responsible for other significant problems such as inability to urinate, sexual dysfunction, diarrhea and incontinence. All of this can be avoided with the proper management of your blood sugar and this should be taken seriously.

This is a complicated process that starts with poor management of blood sugar which leads to poor circulation of the blood which leads to damage of the smaller blood vessels that supply the retina. As the small vessels become further damaged they can rupture and on and on. High blood pressure further complicates this scenario. This can all be avoided by strict management of blood sugar. All diabetics should have their eyes checked once a year or more if they show signs of visual impairment. All techniques for lowering blood pressure should be followed as well. This does not need to happen.

The complications for diabetes are many and many of them are life threatening but if the illness is caught early and people adhere to a diet regimen, exercise and learn the skills to check their blood sugar and do it regularly, these problems do not have to happen.

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