Source: Web exclusive: May 2011
If you’ve got diabetes, that’s not the only disease you should be concerned about. Diabetes is linked to a host of other health problems. But it’s not all doom and gloom, since there are ways to reduce your risk. Number one is blood glucose control. "If you can control your diabetes, then your risk of developing those complications and secondary conditions goes down," says Karen McDermaid, a diabetes educator in Moosomin, Saskatchewan. These five conditions are the big ones to look out for if you’re prediabetic or have diabetes.
1. Heart disease and stroke
Cardiovascular disease is the leading causing of death for people who have diabetes. That’s because high blood sugar can cause a gradual buildup of fatty deposits that clog and harden the walls of blood vessels. And when blood vessels are partially blocked or narrowed, it can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Not everyone faces the same risk. You’re more likely to have cardiovascular disease if you’ve been living with diabetes for more than 15 years. Same applies if you’ve already had diabetes complications affecting your eyes, kidneys or nerves, or if you’ve noticed problems with circulation, like chest pain when you’re physically active, or leg pain when you spend time walking.
Cardiovascular risk factors for people without diabetes also apply to you: If you smoke, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, or have close relatives who have had heart attacks or stroke, your odds are higher of developing the disease.
Reduce your risk: If you smoke, quit. Increase your level of regular physical exercise. And stick to a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet.
2. Kidney disease
Diabetes is a leading cause of kidney failure. At least half of all people with diabetes may have signs of early kidney problems. High blood pressure, or a family history of it, can raise your risk of chronic kidney disease. Raised blood pressure also seems to speed up the development of the disease. Unfortunately, as kidney problems worsen, they themselves can be a cause of hypertension, creating a vicious cycle.
Reduce your risk: If high blood pressure is a problem, talk to your doctor about control measures, including medications. Aim for a target of lower than 130/80. Always avoid a high-protein diet, and have regular urine tests.
3. Nerve damage
Diabetes can often lead to nerve disorders called neuropathies. If your blood vessels have narrowed from fatty deposits, then your nerves may become damaged because they’re not getting the oxygen and nourishment they need. Nerve damage may also be caused by other factors, like inflammation. Diabetic neuropathy can give you symptoms of pain, numbness or tingling in your legs and toes, arms and fingers. Or you might have digestive complaints like nausea, indigestion or constipation. The nerve damage can even cause sexual dysfunction.
Reduce your risk: Keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range. And cut your bad habits: Smoking and drinking alcohol can increase the likelihood that you’ll develop diabetic neuropathy.
There are two reasons why diabetes can lead to amputations of your feet or legs. Because of narrowed blood vessels, circulation to your lower body parts may not be top-notch. That means cuts or sores on your feet or legs will have a tough time healing and can get worse instead of better. Second, if you have nerve damage from diabetes, you might not feel the pain of a foot problem. Sores that you don’t notice can become infected and fester, leading to the need for amputation.
Reduce your risk: Give good care to your feet by cleansing them and inspecting them every day. Avoid anything might hurt your feet, like walking barefoot or wearing poorly fitting socks. If you do get a foot sore that isn’t healing, see your doctor for treatment.
5. Vision loss
Diabetes can cause blockages or abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina, the part of the eye that reads images. Blood vessel changes in the retina can lead to vision problems and even blindness. People with diabetes are also more likely to develop cataracts or glaucoma, two other serious eye diseases.
Reduce your risk: Get a full eye exam at least once a year. Report any strange spots or blurriness to your doctor. If you’re pregnant, see an eye specialist as early as you can. And, you guessed it: Keep your blood glucose levels in a normal range.
For general good health with diabetes, says McDermaid, it’s critical not only that your blood sugar is kept in control, but that your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are healthy as well. "The key is, you have to be in control of your disease, and not let your disease control you," McDermaid says.
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