When you receive a diabetes diagnosis, your doctor will discuss which type of diabetes you have, and how best to manage the condition. Diabetes treatment is a lifelong commitment, it's a serious disease and it needs monitoring closely. In this article we will discuss how the condition can affect your body in both the short-term and long-term. It should also be noted at this point that diabetics who continually perform blood glucose monitoring can slow the onset (or prevent) of diabetes complications by up to 90 percent. We define a short-term complication as something that develops in days or hours - as opposed to long-term complications which could take a decade to occur. It is not a reference to the timeframe, or how soon after diagnosis they begin.
Symptoms Of Diabetes
The immediate signs of diabetes, including increased thirst and excess urination, are probably the most short-term complications of the disease, but they are usually quick to subside when you begin treatment.
Hypoglycemia is a condition where blood sugar levels drop too low - it’s usually caused by incorrect dosages of diabetes drugs, skipping meals or over-exercising. Severe hypoglycemia is far more common in people with type 1 diabetes (happens at least once in 10 percent of them) than type 2 diabetics. Simply eating 2 or 3 glucose tablets will correct the situation (or 2 sugar cubes).
Early warning signs include:
Sudden whiteness, paleness of skin.
As the condition worsens:
Loss of concentration, confusion.
Blurred vision or double vision.
Headache and fatigue.
Slurred speech so that people think the person is drunk.
Eventually coma. See, what to do in case of diabetic coma
See also, what is a normal blood sugar count?
2. Ketoacidosis (DKA)
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is more common in type 1 diabetics. This is where very high levels of sugar and acid are found in the blood. It is often the first sign of diabetes in someone as yet undiagnosed. It is a medical emergency which leads to death unless it is quickly treated. Symptoms usually occur over 24 hours and include rapid breathing, vomiting, extreme drowsiness and weakness. In severe cases it causes confusion and even diabetic coma. In the 1920s it was nearly always fatal, today due to treatment it is only fatal about 5 percent of the time. See also, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
3. Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic Nonketotic Syndrome (HHNS)
Produces similar symptoms to DKA - with HHNS blood sugar levels are also very high but slightly less acidic. Again, it is a medical emergency and leads to leg cramps, sunken eyeballs and coma.
1. Kidney Disease (Diabetic Nephropathy)
Diabetes appears to affect the waste filtering function of the kidneys. Over a period of 10 years or more, this can permanently damage the kidneys to the point where dialysis or a kidney transplant is necessary. The incidence rate of kidney disease (also known as nephropathy) is about 30 percent in type 1 diabetics and 5 percent in people with type 2. This is why, as part of a battery of annual diabetes tests, the kidneys are always checked for early signs of problems.
2. Eye Diseases
Diabetics have a higher rate than most of eye disorders like cataracts and glaucoma. While both these conditions respond well to treatment, a more serious condition called diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness. Retinopathy refers to changes that are found on the retina of the eye, it usually occurs in people who have been exposed to high levels of blood glucose over time. The disease also increases a person's heart attack risk factors. It is common in both type 1 and 2 diabetics and is best avoided with an annual eye examination by a specialist called an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
3. Neuropathy - Nerve Damage
The nervous system can be attacked by poorly controlled diabetes. Nerve damage is usually found in those who have diabetes the longest, typically people over 40, with poor glucose control and who smoke. Diabetic neuropathy is a disease that often leads to foot ulcerations (image) and amputation.
4. Heart Disease
Diabetes increases a person's heart attack and stroke risk factors. Furthermore, if a person with diabetes has a heart attack, they are likely to die 40 percent of the time. This compares to 15 percent of people without the disease. For this reason it is extra important for a diabetic to read about coronary heart disease prevention, as well as heart attack symptoms and symptoms of stroke. Another problem for diabetics is the risk of peripheral vascular disease (PVD). This is where blood flow to the limbs (arms and legs) is reduced due to clogging of the arteries in the area. It results in a loss of pulse and feeling. In fact, after 10 years over 30 percent of diabetics no longer feel a pulse in their feet. The most common sign of the problem is intermittent pain in the thighs, calves or buttocks.
5. Foot Disorders
Nearly 70,000 Americans undergo foot amputations every year, and nearly 60 percent of those people are diabetic (due to gangrene, see diabetes facts for more details). The good news is, good medical care can save your feet. Your doctor should check your feet at every visit for sensation. The patient themselves should take extra care of their feet by never walking barefoot, changing their shoes every 5 hours, inspecting their feet daily for signs of sores or discoloration, and stop smoking if they do.
6. Skin Diseases
Diabetics can suffer from a range of skin disorders including:
1. Dry skin, or loss of skin pigmentation (vitiligo).
2. Bruising around the sites where insulin is injected.
3. Alopecia, sudden loss of hair.
4. Xanthelasma (image), small, yellow fatty deposits under the eye.
5. Fungal infections under the nails or between the toes.
7. Gum Diseases
Gum disease is a major problem for diabetics. This is because high levels of glucose promotes the growth of germs in the mouth. It can lead to bad breath and bleeding gums. Controlling your blood glucose levels and visiting your dentist twice a year will go a long way to preventing this.
8. Special Female Problems
High glucose levels can cause a range of problems in women including:
1. Recurrent yeast infections.
2. Irregular periods.
3. Vaginal atrophy (vaginal dryness that causes painful sexual intercourse).
4. Loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence, where an action like sneezing causes a small leak). However, as many of these problems are also typical menopause signs, you should rule out menopause before blaming your diabetes. Have a quick read of our article menopause testing as well as how menopause affects the body.
5. It should be noted that potential side effects of oral contraceptives include interference in blood sugar levels.
Other Relevant Articles
Insulin pens - why they might make your life easier.
Causes of diabetes - understanding your disease.
Gestational diabetes - read about complications specific to pregnant women.
Diabetes prevention - reduce your risk of complications.