Diabetes can affect you from your head to your toes. Poorly controlled blood sugar can lead to a range of health problems over time.
The longer you’ve had diabetes, the higher your risk for complications becomes. It’s essential that you learn about the potential long-term effects of type 2 diabetes and steps you can take to prevent them from occurring.
Many people with type 2 diabetes have issues with high blood pressure. If this isn’t treated, your risk of heart attack, stroke, vision problems, and kidney disease can increase.
You should monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis. A low-sodium diet, regular exercise, and stress reduction can keep your blood pressure in check. Your doctor can also prescribe medications to treat hypertension.
Over time, uncontrolled blood sugar can cause damage to your arteries. Diabetes also tends to raise triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. This type of cholesterol can clog your arteries and increase your risk of having a heart attack.
People with diabetes are heart disease. Addressing the main risk factors of heart disease can prevent this.
This includes managing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthier diet, and getting regular exercise. Smoking doubles the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes. If you smoke cigarettes, consider quitting.
Most strokes occur when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. People with diabetes are 1.5 times more likely to have a stroke, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Other factors that increase your risk of a stroke include high blood pressure, smoking, heart disease, high cholesterol, and being overweight.
Diabetes can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in your eyes. This increases your chances of developing serious eye conditions, such as:
- glaucoma, which is when fluid pressure builds up in your eye
- cataracts, or the clouding of the lens of your eye
- diabetic retinopathy, when blood vessels in the back of your eye (retina) become damaged
These conditions can result in vision loss over time.
Make sure to schedule regular eye exams with an ophthalmologist. Any change in your vision should be taken seriously.
Early detection of diabetic retinopathy, for example, can prevent or postpone blindness in of people with diabetes.
Over time, damage to nerves and circulation problems caused by diabetes can lead to foot problems, like foot ulcers.
If an ulcer forms, it can become infected. A serious infection could mean you need to have the foot or leg amputated.
You can prevent these issues with proper foot care. Here are some steps you can take:
- Keep your feet clean, dry, and protected from injury.
- Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes with comfortable socks.
- Check your feet and toes frequently for any red patches, sores, or blisters.
- Contact your doctor right away if you notice any foot problems.
Your risk for nerve damage and pain, known as diabetic neuropathy, increases the longer you’ve had type 2 diabetes. Neuropathy is one of the most common diabetes complications.
Neuropathy can affect your hands and feet, known as peripheral neuropathy. It can also affect the nerves that control organs in your body, which is called autonomic neuropathy.
Depending on which nerves are affected, symptoms may include:
- numbness, tingling, or burning in your hands or feet
- stabbing or shooting pains
- vision problems
- sensitivity to touch
- loss of balance
- loss of control of bladder or bowels (incontinence)
- erectile dysfunction in men
- vaginal dryness in women
If your blood sugar levels aren’t properly managed, this can lead to kidney disease. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can impair your kidney’s ability to filter waste. It’s essential to keep your blood glucose and blood pressure levels under control to prevent this.
Visit your doctor at least once a year to have your urine checked for protein. Protein in the urine is a sign of kidney disease.
While scientists don’t fully understand the link between diabetes and depression, they do know that people with diabetes are at a higher risk of experiencing depression.
Diabetes can be stressful and emotionally draining. If you’re starting to feel lonely or sad because of your diabetes, talking to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or professional counselor can help.
Ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional experienced in working with people with diabetes. If your doctor recommends it, consider taking an antidepressant medication.
If blood sugar levels remain high over a long period of time, damage to the vagus nerve can occur. The vagus nerve is the nerve that controls the movement of food through the digestive tract.
Gastroparesis arises when the vagus nerve is damaged or stops working. When this happens, the stomach takes longer than normal to empty its contents. This is called delayed gastric emptying.
Symptoms of gastroparesis include:
- nausea and vomiting
- feeling of fullness
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- stomach spasms
Gastroparesis can also make it more difficult to manage blood glucose levels since food absorption is less predictable. The best way to prevent gastroparesis is to manage your blood sugar levels over time. If you do develop gastroparesis, you’ll need to work with your doctor to adjust your insulin regimen.
You should also avoid eating high-fiber, high-fat foods, as they take longer to digest. Also, try eating small meals throughout the day.
Scientists have recently established a link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. Too much sugar in the blood can damage the brain over time, so it’s important to keep your blood sugar levels under control.
In poorly managed diabetes, small blood vessels often become damaged. This includes the small blood vessels that help nourish your teeth and gums, which puts you at increased risk of tooth decay and gum infections.
To reduce your risk of dental issues, see a dentist every six months for a checkup. Brush your teeth with a fluoride-containing toothpaste, and floss at least once a day.
You can prevent long-term effects of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes, medications, and being proactive about your diabetes care.
Keep blood glucose levels within the recommended range. Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator if you aren’t sure about your blood glucose target.
Also consider making changes to your diet and exercise routine. Avoid sugar and high-carbohydrate, processed foods. This includes candy, sugary drinks, white bread, rice, and pasta.
Combine aerobic exercise with strength training, and find ways to reduce your stress levels. All of this can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Assemble a healthcare team and schedule regular checkups. Your healthcare team may include a diabetes educator, endocrinologist, ophthalmologist, cardiologist, neurologist, podiatrist, and a dietician, among others. Your primary care physician can help you understand which specialists you should be visiting on a regular basis.
You can still live a long life free of complications with type 2 diabetes. Greater awareness of the risk factors is the key to reducing the impact of diabetes on your body.
Be sure to visit your doctor on a regular basis for a checkup even if you don’t have any new symptoms. Early treatment can help prevent diabetes-related complications.