The Hidden Dangers of Diabetes: What You Need to Know!

May 31, 2024

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Diabetes is no light matter. People with diabetes face a higher chance of dealing with many health issues. These include heart and blood vessel diseases, nerve and kidney damage, and eye problems. They can also suffer foot issues, skin and mouth troubles, hearing loss, Alzheimer’s, and even depression. Diabetes affects the body in ways we often can’t see, hitting the heart, nerves, and urinary system hard.

High sugar in the blood, unchecked, can really hurt. It may harm your nerves, eyes, and kidneys. It doesn’t stop there – virtually every part of your body can face problems, from the heart and vessels to eyes, kidneys, nerves, guts, and even your mouth. What’s more, 73.6% of diabetes cases link to high blood pressure. This elevates the danger of life-changing problems even more.[1]

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Understanding Diabetes and Its Impact on the Body

Diabetes affects millions worldwide and was estimated to hit 537 million in 2021[2]. It’s expected to grow to 783 million by 2045. The condition occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin or use it right, causing high blood sugar levels, known as hyperglycemia.

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 starts usually in childhood or the teenage years. The immune system wrongly attacks the pancreas’s insulin-making cells in this type. Type 2 is more common and occurs at any age, especially in those over 40. Lifestyle and genes can cause this type, making the body fight against insulin’s effects.

Several factors increase diabetes risk, such as[3]:

  • Having diabetes in the family increases the risk for everyone[3]
  • Some racial and ethnic groups, like Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian American people, are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes[3]
  • Being overweight or obese raises the chance of getting prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes[3]

If blood sugar isn’t controlled, diabetes can lead to heart disease, nerve damage, eye problems, and kidney issues. Women with gestational diabetes might have larger babies, increasing birth risks[3]. It also raises the chance of these babies developing low blood sugar at birth or facing obesity and diabetes later[3].

It’s important to eat well, be active, and lose extra weight to prevent or manage prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, or gestational diabetes[3]. Losing just 7% of your weight can cut diabetes risk for overweight individuals[3].

For those with prediabetes, checking blood sugar often is critical to spot type 2 diabetes early[3]. Sometimes, doctors advise taking metformin, a diabetes medicine, to lower type 2 diabetes risk. But remember, healthy living choices are key alongside any medication[3].

The global cost of diabetes-related healthcare was 966 billion USD in 2021 and might jump to 1,054 billion USD by 2045[2]. Knowing about diabetes risk, complications, and how to prevent it is essential. This helps in better health outcomes and cuts down healthcare costs worldwide.

High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol: The Silent Killers

High blood pressure and cholesterol pose huge risks for those with diabetes. People with diabetes often have high LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and triglycerides. They also tend to have low HDL (‘good’) cholesterol. This mix can cause atherosclerosis, harming blood vessels and boosting blood pressure[4].

The Link Between Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

Diabetes and heart disease are closely linked. Most diabetic individuals also have high blood pressure[5]. Up to 73.6% of them face hypertension. This can lead to severe issues like heart attacks, strokes, and vision problems[4]. Men under 65 are at higher risk, while women over 65 face more chances[5]. Some groups, like Black, Hispanic, and Asian men, also see higher hypertension rates[5].

Surprisingly, high blood pressure often shows no symptoms. This is why it’s called the “silent killer.” A healthy reading is 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure is over 140/90 mmHg[6].

Monitoring and Managing Blood Pressure and Lipids

For those with diabetes, checking blood pressure and cholesterol is vital. Blood pressure should be checked at least yearly[4]. The goal for blood pressure in diabetics is under 140/90mmHg, lower for some kidney patients[4]. If you’re 80 or older, aim for under 150/90mmHg[4].

Lifestyle changes are crucial. They can help with blood pressure and cholesterol. Maintain a healthy weight, stay active, cut down on salt, quit smoking, and watch your alcohol[4]. Stress and too much caffeine are also bad. Some may need drugs for blood pressure[4]. These can include diuretics and ACE inhibitors.

  • Diuretics
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Beta-blockers
  • Angiotensin-2 receptor blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers[4]

Cholesterol should stay under 200 mg/dL in total. Triglycerides should be under 150 mg/dL. HDL should be above 60 mg/dL. LDL should be less than 130 mg/dL[6]. Many with high blood pressure also have high cholesterol[5].

Lipid TypeHealthy Level
Total CholesterolLess than 200 mg/dL
TriglyceridesLess than 150 mg/dL
HDL (Good) CholesterolMore than 60 mg/dL
LDL (Bad) CholesterolLess than 130 mg/dL

Staying on top of blood pressure and cholesterol vastly cuts heart disease risks for diabetics. These illnesses are major killers. High blood pressure is the top reason for strokes[6]. Checking regularly, changing how you live, and sometimes taking medicine are great defenses.

Increased Susceptibility to Infections

Diabetes weakens the immune system, putting people at higher risk for infections. White blood cells have a hard time fighting off germs. Plus, diabetes shrinks blood vessels, slowing blood flow to infected places[7]. This makes infections like the flu and pneumonia more dangerous, possibly leading to severe health issues[7][8].

How Diabetes Weakens the Immune System

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes raise the chance of getting sick from common infections[7][8]. They’re also a risk factor for getting very sick in hospitals, especially from pneumonia, as seen in studies from 2007[7]. Another study that year focused on the impact of type 2 diabetes on pneumonia outcomes, underlining the problem[7].

Diabetes can even increase the chances of getting tuberculosis. For women, having diabetes and bacterial infections can hurt kidney function in the long run, found in 2006[7]. Rare but serious infections, like ones from Candida tropicalis, are more common in those with diabetes[7].

Preventing and Managing Infections with Diabetes

For people with diabetes, regular exercise is key to preventing infections. It not only boosts your immune system but also helps your body use insulin better, keeping blood sugar levels more under control. Good hygiene, up-to-date vaccinations, and quick medical help if you suspect an infection are vital too.

Recent research shows that diabetes increases the risk of severe COVID-19. Studies in the UK looked at how diabetes affects COVID-19 patients’ outcomes[8]. This research shows the need for careful infection control and making sure people with diabetes get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Risks of Insulin Overdose and Hypoglycemia

Insulin plays a big role in diabetes care. Around 12% of adults with diabetes use it. For the right dose, you need to think about blood sugar, carbs in your food, how insulin works, and where you want your blood sugar to be after meals. Too much insulin can drop your blood sugar too low, leading to serious issues or even death.

Basal insulin keeps blood sugar steady all day. Other insulins have different jobs and work at different speeds. For example, fast-acting insulin starts working in 15 minutes. Short-acting insulin starts in 30-60 minutes[9]. The usual insulin strength is U-100. But some people need U-500 because they’re more insulin resistant[9].

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It’s easy to take too much insulin by mistake. You might forget, get distracted, use a new product for the first time, or experience meal delays. Errors like these have led to many visits to the ER and hospital stays. Studies have found between 678 to 686 of these cases[10]. Symptoms of too low blood sugar from too much insulin vary, and the worst cases can cause unconsciousness and seizures[9].

Having diabetes can make you more likely to be depressed or think about suicide. This can lead to taking too much insulin on purpose[9]. Studies tell us how often hypoglycemia happens in people with diabetes who need insulin. For example, a population study found incidents ranging from 749 to 755[10]. We also know what increases the odds of having severe low blood sugar in type 1 diabetes. They found as many as 1878 to 1881 cases[10]. Older adults with Type 1 diabetes also face these risks, with a study pointing out 603 to 610 cases[10].

If you have low blood sugar, you should eat something that raises it fast[9]. Always be careful when figuring out how much insulin you need for your food. If you miss something, it can make your blood sugar control worse or, in severe cases, be dangerous.

“Insulin overdose can be a serious and potentially life-threatening situation. It is crucial for individuals with diabetes to work closely with their healthcare providers to determine the appropriate insulin dosage and to be vigilant in monitoring their blood sugar levels.”

Insulin is key for managing diabetes, but it comes with risks. By knowing how insulin works, checking your blood sugar often, and talking with your healthcare team, you can lower the risk of too much insulin and its dangers.

Diabetes Complications: What You Need to Know

Diabetes can cause problems with different body parts. High sugar in the blood can harm your eyes, feet, heart, and more. It might lead to severe issues like nerve damage and even cancer[11]. These problems can happen if your blood sugar stays high for a long time, affecting parts like your eyes and nerves[11].

Cardiovascular Complications

Diabetes raises the risk of heart problems and strokes. People with diabetes face double the risk compared to those without it. It’s important to regularly check your heart health with tests on cholesterol, blood pressure, and more to avoid serious problems[12].

Kidney Disease (Nephropathy)

Kidney disease is a big threat for adults in the U.S. with diabetes, causing half of new kidney failure cases. High blood pressure from diabetes can make this worse[13]. Testing your urine and blood for creatinine can show kidney problems early. Those with heart issues or high blood pressure should test more often[12].

Eye Damage (Retinopathy)

Eye damage is a top cause of vision loss in adults. It can lead to serious eye conditions and even blindness. Getting a yearly eye check is crucial for those with diabetes. For some, this check should begin soon after their diabetes diagnosis[12].

Nerve Damage (Neuropathy)

Nerve damage is common, affecting up to 70% of people with diabetes. It can start in the hands and feet, then spread. Symptoms may include numbness or pain. It’s important for doctors to check your feet at every visit if you have diabetes[12].

Foot Problems and Amputations

People with diabetes may face foot problems, which, in rare cases, lead to amputations. They are at a 10 times higher risk of losing toes or feet. Extra care is necessary to avoid infections because of poor blood flow[13]. About a third will have a skin problem because of their diabetes[12].

ComplicationPrevention and Management
Cardiovascular DiseaseRegular tests for cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and EKG
Kidney Disease (Nephropathy)Urine testing, creatinine blood tests, managing blood pressure
Eye Damage (Retinopathy)Annual eye exams, early diagnosis and treatment
Nerve Damage (Neuropathy)Thorough foot exams, managing blood sugar levels
Foot Problems and AmputationsFoot care, monitoring for infections, managing blood sugar levels

To avoid diabetes complications, it’s key to control your HbA1c and manage your health. Keep your blood sugar, pressure, and fats at good levels. Stop smoking, eat well, and keep active. Also, don’t miss your medical checks[11]. Stay on top of your blood sugar to avoid high or low levels, which are both risky. Those with ongoing issues need even more care to prevent new problems[11].

Protecting Your Heart and Blood Vessels

If you have diabetes, your heart and blood vessels face more risks. You’re almost twice as likely to get heart disease or have a stroke. This is compared to those without diabetes[14]. If you also have high blood pressure, the risk increases more[15]. It’s vital for people with diabetes to manage their blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels well. This helps protect their heart and blood vessels.

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Lifestyle Changes for Cardiovascular Health

To manage diabetes and lower heart disease risk, healthy habits are key. This includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, staying at a healthy weight, and getting enough sleep[14]. Losing just a little weight can improve your triglycerides and lower blood sugar[15]. Learning to handle stress also plays a part in managing diabetes better[14].

Other vital changes include:

  • Quit smoking to cut your chance of heart problems and other serious issues[14]
  • Stay active to control blood sugar and lower heart disease risk[15]
  • Eat a healthy diet to stay at a good weight and manage diabetes well[15]

Medications and Treatments for Heart Disease

For some people with diabetes, lifestyle changes aren’t enough. They might need medications or other treatments for heart health. These can help reach healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. This lowers the risk of heart problems[14].

Working closely with your healthcare team is vital to take care of your heart. This partnership is essential for managing and even preventing diabetes-related heart issues[14][15]. With regular check-ups and following treatment plans, you can keep your heart healthy. This reduces the risk of severe heart events.

Preserving Your Vision: Preventing and Managing Eye Complications

Diabetic retinopathy is a major eye issue linked to diabetes. It is the top reason for blindness in those who work and are over 40[16]. If you’re over 40 and have diabetes, there’s a one in three chance you already show signs of this. This problem comes from high levels of blood sugar that harm the tiny blood vessels in the eyes. This leads to vision loss and other eye troubles[16].

Having diabetes means you’re more likely to get glaucoma and cataracts. Your chances are twice as high as someone without diabetes[17]. With glaucoma especially, diabetes makes it twice as likely to happen[17]. Also, people with diabetes get cataracts sooner in life than those without[16][17].

Finding and treating these eye issues early is key to not losing your vision. Catching and treating diabetic retinopathy in time lowers blindness risk by 95 percent[17]. You should have regular eye checkups. For those with type 1 diabetes, these should start within 5 years of diagnosis. If you have type 2, start right after you’re diagnosed[17].

For women with diabetes, it’s vital to get an eye check before pregnancy or in the first 3 months of being pregnant. But if you get gestational diabetes, you might not need an eye check because it usually doesn’t harm your eyes[17].

Symptoms of diabetic eye damage may include:

  • Vision problems
  • Sudden vision loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Trouble reading
  • Seeing rings around lights or dark spots
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Difficulty seeing well at night

Eye damage often shows no clear signs, even if it’s serious. That’s why seeing an eye doctor once a year is a must. And, get help fast if you see any warning signals.

Some people have a higher chance of losing their vision because of diabetes. This includes African Americans, American Indians, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders. The more years you live with diabetes, the more likely you are to have eye issues[17].

Keep your eyes healthy with regular checks and by controlling your blood sugar. Quick treatment of any issues helps a lot. This way, you lower the risk of losing your vision for a long time[17].

Keeping Your Kidneys Healthy: Preventing and Managing Nephropathy

Diabetes is a top reason for kidney failure in adults. About 1 out of 3 adults with diabetes develops kidney disease[18]. People with diabetes have a higher risk of kidney issues. This is especially true for some ethnic groups like African Americans, American Indians, and Hispanics/Latinos. They face a higher risk compared to Caucasians[18][19]. The early stages of kidney damage may not show any symptoms. This makes regular kidney checks very important for spotting and treating any issues early[18].

Early Detection and Regular Screening

For those with type 2 diabetes or type 1 for over 5 years, yearly tests for kidney disease are a must[18]. Keeping your A1C under 7% and blood pressure below 140/90 mm Hg is crucial for kidney health[18]. Lifestyle can also play a big role. Things like high blood pressure, heart disease, a family history of kidney issues, and regular use of NSAIDs can up your chances of kidney damage[19].

Medications and Treatments for Kidney Disease

Specific blood pressure meds, like ACE inhibitors and ARBs, can help slow kidney damage in those with diabetes. They should also have high blood pressure and kidney issues[18][19]. Living a healthy lifestyle is key too. This includes staying at a healthy weight, sleeping enough, sticking to a diabetes meal plan, exercising most days, not drinking too much, and handling stress well. These steps can lower the risk of kidney failure by about 33%[18][19]. Always work with your doctor to keep an eye on your kidney health and adjust your care plan as needed. This can help slow down or prevent kidney damage and failure.

FAQ

What are some of the hidden dangers of diabetes?

Diabetes affects your health in many ways, reaching your heart, nerves, and urinary systems. It can cause damage to your nerves, eyes, and kidneys if not controlled. This problem can harm nearly all organs of your body.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It happens when your immune system attacks the pancreas cells that produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is more connected to lifestyle and genetics. The body becomes resistant to insulin and doesn’t use it well.

How does diabetes affect blood pressure and cholesterol?

People with diabetes often have high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol. They also have high triglycerides. This mix can lead to atherosclerosis. It causes less blood flow and raises blood pressure. Most with diabetes have high blood pressure too.

Why are people with diabetes more susceptible to infections?

Diabetes makes it hard for your immune system to fight off germs. Also, diabetes can lead to poor blood flow in parts of your body. This makes it easier for infections to start and harder to fight them off.

What are the risks of insulin overdose?

Too much insulin can lower your blood sugar to dangerous levels. This can cause seizures, unconsciousness, or even death. To avoid this, it’s vital to calculate your insulin dose carefully, especially based on what you eat.

What are some common complications of diabetes?

Diabetes can cause several health problems, like heart disease and stroke. It can damage your kidneys, eyes, and nerves. You might also have issues with your feet, which may lead to amputations.

How can I protect my heart and blood vessels if I have diabetes?

Keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol in check to protect your heart. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and not smoking help too. Managing stress is also important for heart health.

How can I prevent vision loss from diabetes?

Getting regular eye exams and treating any issues early can prevent most diabetes-related blindness. Visit an eye doctor at least once a year. Act fast on any signs of eye trouble.

What can I do to keep my kidneys healthy with diabetes?

Early diabetes-related kidney issues may not show symptoms. Regular checks and early treatment are key to avoid and manage this condition. Drugs to lower blood sugar and pressure can reduce kidney failure risk. Always work closely with your doctor to protect your kidneys.

Key Takeaways

  • Diabetes can lead to a wide range of hidden health complications affecting various organs and systems in the body.
  • Uncontrolled high blood sugar levels can cause long-term damage to nerves, eyes, kidneys, and other organs.
  • Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, diabetic neuropathy, nephropathy, retinopathy, foot problems, and other complications.
  • Regular monitoring of blood sugar levels and adopting a healthy lifestyle can help prevent or delay the onset of diabetes complications.
  • Working closely with healthcare providers to manage diabetes and its associated risks is crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being.

References

  1. https://diabetes-m.com/blog/tips-tricks/the-hidden-dangers-of-diabetes/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9380203/
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371444
  4. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/managing-your-diabetes/blood-pressure
  5. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/know-your-risk-factors-for-high-blood-pressure
  6. https://www.samitivejhospitals.com/article/detail/silent-threats-diabetes-hypertension-hyperlipidemia
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3354930/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7921169/
  9. https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/insulin-overdose
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8955302/
  11. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/complications
  12. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/diabetes-complications
  13. https://medlineplus.gov/diabetescomplications.html
  14. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke
  15. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/diabetes-complications/diabetes-and-your-heart.html
  16. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/diabetes-complications/diabetes-and-vision-loss.html
  17. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/diabetic-eye-disease
  18. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/diabetic-kidney-disease
  19. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/prevention
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