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Health Journey Support | Complications of Diabetes: Tracking and Management of Your Disease

If you have diabetes, your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are too high. Over time, this can cause problems with your kidneys, heart, eyes, nerves, and feet. This brochure will help to explain some of the problems you may (or may not) have with diabetes.

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Complications Of Diabetes Tracking Management Br

Complications of Diabetes:

Tracking and Management of Your Disease

If you have diabetes, your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are too high. Over time, this can cause problems with your kidneys, heart, eyes, nerves, and feet. Other problems can occur with your skin, teeth, digestion, and sexual performance.

The good news is that you can manage many of these problems. Eating healthy, exercising regularly, and checking your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels are all important steps to staying healthy.

This handout will help to explain some of the problems you may (or may not) have with diabetes.

How does diabetes affect my heart health?

People with diabetes often are obese, have high cholesterol, and/or high blood pressure. If you have a combination of any of these conditions, you can be at greater risk of heart attack and stroke than people who do not have diabetes.

To help manage your heart health, you need to:

  • eat the right foods
  • exercise regularly
  • stop smoking
  • check your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels

Working with a dietitian can help you choose a healthy diet. If you are overweight, you can also talk with a dietitian to help you lose weight safely. You can also get recommendations for physical activities that are right for you. And, if you smoke, you should quit.

The following tests are important for people with diabetes:

  • A1C—at least twice a year
  • Cholesterol—at least once a year
  • Blood pressure—at every doctor's visit

If your doctor prescribes medications for you, make sure you take them as prescribed.

What effect does diabetes have on my kidneys?

The job of the kidneys is to filter out waste. When the kidneys are damaged and can't function properly, waste builds up in your bloodstream. When the kidneys fail, you will need to have your blood filtered through a machine several times a week; this is called dialysis. In more severe cases, you may need a kidney transplant.

In people with diabetes, kidney disease happens slowly and silently. You may not even know there is a problem with your kidneys until something goes wrong. But there's a lot you can do to help manage potential kidney problems.

Managing your blood glucose and keeping your blood pressure under control is important. It is also important to get your blood and urine checked for kidney problems each year. Your doctor can perform tests to see how well your kidneys are working.

If you develop cloudy or bloody urine, experience pain or a burning sensation when you urinate, or have an urgent need to urinate often, you may have a bladder or kidney infection. Other symptoms of bladder and kidney infection include back pain, chills, or fever.

How does diabetes affect my vision?

In people with diabetes, high blood glucose and high blood pressure can cause small blood vessels to swell. The blood vessels leak liquid into the eyes, causing blurred vision; sometimes this leaking can cause blindness. Other eye diseases more likely to occur in people with diabetes are cataracts and glaucoma.

Treating eye problems early can help save your sight. Have an eye doctor give you a dilated eye exam at least once a year. The doctor will check for signs of cataracts or glaucoma. It's important to check your eyes, because diabetic eye disease may develop.

Symptoms of eye disease include:

  • Trouble reading
  • Blurred vision
  • Seeing rings around lights or dark spots
  • Flashing lights

Tell your health care team or your eye doctor about any changes in your vision.

What about nerve damage and infection? Can this lead to amputation?

Long-term diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves. As a result, numbness, pain, and weakness in the hands, arms, feet, and legs can occur. An estimated 50% of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy—the medical term for damage to the nervous system.

Nerve damage can deform or misshape your feet. It can lead to blisters, sores, or ulcers on your limbs as well. Poor circulation can make these injuries slow to heal. A sore or ulcer that does not heal or becomes infected can lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or leg.

Take good care of your feet. Have them examined by your doctor at least 4 times a year. Have them tested for nerve damage at least once a year.

Things you can do to help you have healthy feet:

  • Look for cuts, cracks, sores, red spots, swelling, infected toenails, splinters, blisters, and calluses on your feet every day. Call your doctor if any cut or infection doesn't heal after 1 day
  • Ask your doctor or podiatrist (foot doctor) how to care for corns and calluses, if you have them
  • Wash your feet in warm water (not hot) and dry them thoroughly
  • Cut your toenails (but not too short) as needed. Toenails should be cut when they are soft after washing, and the edges should be filed with an emery board
  • Rub lotion on the tops and bottoms of your feet—but not between the toes—to prevent cracking and drying
  • Wear shoes that fit well. Break in new shoes slowly
  • Wear stockings or socks to protect your feet against blisters and sores
  • Wear clean, lightly padde ocks that fit well
  • Avoid walking barefoot because it's easy to step on something harmful—always wear shoes or slippers
  • Protect your feet from extreme temperatures (heat and cold)
  • When sitting, keep the blood flowing by propping your feet up; move your toes and ankles for a few minutes at a time
  • Don't smoke. Smoking reduces blood flow to the feet

Remember to always keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels under control. Eating healthy foods, staying active, and taking your diabetes medicines will help you prevent or delay complications.

For additional resources, ask your care manager.