Control diabetes to avoid complications
Diabetes is a disorder characterized by high blood sugars largely as a result of either the body not making enough insulin or its inability to utilize insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy (normal) range. Its chief role is to trigger the body to use sugar for energy or store it for use later.
Over time, high blood sugars affect multiple organ systems in the entire body including the eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart.
“Diabetes is associated with an increased risk of blindness, neuropathy, heart attacks, kidney failure and stroke,” says Sadia Ali, M.D., endocrinologist with The Christ Hospital Diabetes and Endocrine Center. “Improvement in blood sugar control reduces the risk of these complications.”
Complications of diabetes occur when blood sugar levels are too high for long periods of time. Dr. Ali explains how the body is affected:
Nerves – “High blood sugars can damage nerves in the body, which can lead to loss of sensation, numbness, tingling in hands and feet and pain,” Dr. Ali says. “Neuropathy – or nerve damage caused by diabetes – can affect up to 50 percent of all people with diabetes.” Neuropathy can impact nearly every organ system, including the digestive tract, heart, limbs and sex organs.
Eyes – Damage to the eyes from high blood sugars is referred to as diabetic retinopathy. High blood sugars lead to the formation of new blood vessels, which can leak to form spots on the retina. If uncontrolled, this damage can lead to poor vision and even blindness. “Annual eye exams are extremely important for catching diabetic retinopathy early,” Dr. Ali insists. Diabetes can also cause other serious eye problems, such as cataracts and glaucoma.
Heart – Myocardial infarction (heart attack) is three to five times more common in diabetic patients and is the leading cause of death in this group..
Kidneys – Diabetes can also lead to kidney damage, or diabetic nephropathy. High blood sugars and high blood pressure can damage blood vessels, causing them to leak protein into the urine. This protein damages the kidney over time and can result in patients developing kidney failure and sometimes needing dialysis.
Brain – People with diabetes are two times more likely to suffer from a stroke than people without diabetes.
Preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes complications starts with getting your blood sugars under control, says Dr. Ali. Healthy lifestyle changes – eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, avoiding tobacco and alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight – can help get sugars within a safe and healthy level.
“We use a combined approach to treat diabetes, and it starts with making lifestyle modifications followed by using medications as needed,” Dr. Ali says.
The Christ Hospital Diabetes and Endocrine Center uses a collaborative approach with the patient’s primary care physician, endocrinologist and certified diabetes educators to devise a treatment plan for the long term. “Our physicians, nurse practioner and nutritionists are all under the same roof,” Dr. Ali says. “We can help people manage the condition to help them avoid complications.”
Looking for expert diabetes care? Find a physician by calling 877-904-4YOU or learn about The Christ Hospital’s Diabetes Support Group.