Diabetes is an incredibly common disease. More than 100 million adults in the U.S. either have diabetes or prediabetes. It happens when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, which helps your body convert the carbohydrates you consume into energy, or can’t effectively use the insulin it makes to balance the sugar in your blood. While diabetes used to be considered a disease that only affected older individuals or children, today it’s likely to affect anyone. You’re particularly at risk if you’re obese or have a family history of diabetes. Since diabetes is so common, it’s easy to assume it’s treatable and won’t cause complications — but if it’s not managed, it can ravage your body.
Here’s what diabetes can do to your body and how you can avoid the common problems it causes.
Sugar is sticky and that stickiness can cause damage as blood with high levels of sugar in it moves through your body. It can potentially impact every organ of your body. When you have too much sugar in your blood, the elasticity of your blood vessels is reduced and plaques are created that lead to heart attack and death — which means your blood vessels are more likely to narrow and restrict your blood supply. Diabetes can also impact your nervous system. The result is, your body is less able to regulate how well it functions.
Diabetes can also cause these problems:
- peripheral arterial disease
- kidney damage and/or failure
- erectile dysfunction
- pregnancy complications
- skin conditions (more susceptible to dry skin, bacterial/fungal infections, skin tags, blisters, acanthosis nigricans, or diabetic dermopathy)
- eye damage or problems (blurred vision, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, or macular edema)
- nervous system problems
- reduced ability to heal from wounds and infections
- peripheral neuropathy (numbness in hands, feet, legs, toes, fingers, and arms)
- gastroparesis (vomiting, nausea, acid reflux, bloating, stomach pain, or weight loss)
- diabetic ketoacidosis
- hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state
- mental health problems (diabetes distress, depression or anxiety)
Some of these health issues are serious and long-term while others are easily managed through lifestyle modifications and medication. It’s also important to be aware that some of the effects of diabetes, such as diabetic ketoacidosis, are life-threatening unless you receive medical attention immediately.
The best protection against the effects of diabetes is to take care of your body and manage your disease. Because diabetes happens when your body has too much sugar in your blood, managing your blood sugars should be your top priority. Blood sugar that’s too high can lead to serious complications quickly and cause long-term damage.
You can protect against the damage diabetes will do to your body by:
- following your doctor’s recommendations for treatment and diabetes management
- eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking
- taking medications or insulin to manage your blood sugars
Diabetes can be a debilitating disease if it’s not managed well. When you understand what diabetes can do to your body, you can take the measures necessary to protect yourself against that damage. If you have questions or concerns about how to best manage your diabetes, talk to your doctor.