The long term silent complications of poorly managed diabetes

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Jason Loo Siau Ee
PhD, MPharm, RPh

Article 1 feature image (Diabetes)

Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in the world, and is becoming increasingly prevalent due to our sedentary lifestyles and eating habits. As most people already know, diabetes results in having high blood sugar, and is caused by either your body being unable to produce enough insulin or your body becoming resistant to the effects of insulin. The biggest problem with diabetes however, is that it is a silent killer that causes many complications besides just increasing your blood sugar.

In the early stages, most people with diabetes (especially Type 2 diabetes) will experience no symptoms. Unfortunately, this means many people may not realize they have diabetes as they do not check their blood sugar or go for regular blood tests. For those that are diagnosed with diabetes, they often fail to control their diabetes properly. After all, when the diabetes has no effect on how you feel, it’s easy to disregard the warnings of healthcare experts and continue eating your favourite foods with no control. Many people also think that it is enough to simply avoid food that tastes sweet, but in fact other types of foods such as rice and noodles which are rich in carbohydrates can also contribute to diabetes risk.

Because of all these reasons, diabetes is often poorly controlled in many patients, and in the long run they suffer from complications, many of which they are not aware is due to their diabetes. Below are some of the common complications of diabetes.

  • Diabetes significantly increases your risk of heart disease. People with diabetes are more likely to suffer heart attacks, stroke, and narrowing of their arteries (atherosclerosis).
  • Diabetes can damage your nerves, causing what is known as diabetic neuropathy. People with diabetic neuropathy often feel numbness or tingling in their hands and feet. Some patients will be given a vitamin B formulations, which usually consist of B1, B6 or B12 (such as Mecomin® or Neurobion®) to treat or protect against this.
  • Diabetes can damage your kidney. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease in the world. When uncontrolled, patients will eventually have to be on dialysis or require a kidney transplant.
  • Diabetes can damage your eyes and cause blindness (known as diabetic retinopathy). It can also increase the risk of other eye conditions such as cataract and glaucoma.
  • Diabetes makes you more prone to infections and makes your wounds heal slower. Some patients suffer from what is known as diabetic foot ulcers. Because of the damage to their nerves they do not realize that they have an infected ulcer, which heals slowly due to the diabetes. If the infection is not controlled this may lead to worse complications; this is a common cause of foot amputations.

There are even more complications that are caused by diabetes than those listed here. It is indeed quite concerning that such a common disease that affects so many people can contribute to so many problems. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of these complications, and do not get themselves checked for diabetes or fail to control their diabetes properly by managing their diet and taking the right medications.

With some diet discipline, proper advice, and medication, diabetes can actually be controlled and complications such as those listed above can easily be avoided. So, if you are at risk of diabetes, do consider testing your blood sugar or taking a blood test if you haven’t. Nonetheless, even if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it doesn’t mean that you have to avoid your favourite foods completely. As a rule of thumb, you should practice moderation in your diet. Remember to constantly keep in communication with your doctor or pharmacist about how you can better manage your diabetes and lead a healthy lifestyle.

Reference:

WHO Consultation, 1999. Definition, diagnosis and classification of diabetes mellitus and its complications.

 

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