Adjusting your diet and lifestyle to deal with diabetes isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort. Uncontrolled blood sugar forces your body to run on empty, without proper fuel. Running on fumes too often or for too long can lead to some hairy health issues.
If you have type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t process glucose (aka blood sugar) efficiently enough. If you have type 1, your pancreas can’t process glucose at all.
Whether you have T1D or T2D, keeping your blood sugar in the safe zone is crucial for warding off long-term complications.
Some long-term issues to watch for:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- memory loss
- tooth decay
- vision loss
- hearing loss
What happens if you raid your Halloween candy stash and your body can’t keep up? Sugar gets stuck in your bloodstream, where it accumulates and damages your arteries.
Understandably, this is an issue for your circulatory system. According to the CDC, nearly 70 percent of people over 65 who have diabetes eventually die from heart disease.
Here are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of diabetes-related heart disease:
- Quit smoking.
- Stay active.
- Get your blood pressure checked every 6 months.
- Get your HbA1c (aka glycated hemoglobin) checked once a year.
- Get your cholesterol checked once a year.
The American Diabetes Association says people with diabetes are 1.5 times more likely to have a stroke. A stroke happens when blood supply to the brain is abruptly cut off because of a clot in the head or neck.
Warning signs include:
- numbness on one side of your body
- sudden confusion
- trouble talking
- dizziness or lack of coordination
- cloudy or blacked-out vision
- double vision
- sudden severe headache
This is scary stuff, but luckily you can take some steps to prevent clots from forming in the first place.
If you smoke, try to quit. It’s a huge challenge but can have serious benefits for your health. And do your best to manage your cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight.
If you have T2D, it’s pretty common to have high blood pressure (HBP) too. HBP can happen for a lot of reasons, such as being out of shape, smoking, or an underlying heart condition. The best way to find out if you have HBP is to visit your doctor.
To prevent HBP:
- Stay active.
- Get enough potassium and magnesium.
- Lower your salt intake.
Some research suggests a connection between diabetes and dementia. For instance, a 2015 study found that metabolic conditions like diabetes may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
Family history can play a role in your risk of developing dementia. If you or a family member feels confused or anxious or experiences delusions, it might be time to see your doctor.
You have the power to lower your risk, though. Keep your blood sugar in the safe zone, eat healthfully, and stay active.
We’ve covered how high blood sugar can damage your veins and arteries. So next time you’re tempted to dive into your candy stash, consider the tiny blood vessels that nourish your gums and teeth. Damage to those blood vessels damages your smile.
Here are some symptoms to watch out for:
- red, angry-looking gums
- gums that seem loose around your teeth
- tooth decay
You can help prevent these issues by going to the dentist twice a year and brushing those pearly whites twice a day (bonus points for using a soft-bristle toothbrush!).
It’s normal to go through all the feels when you’ve been diagnosed with a life-changing condition. Some days, managing your blood sugar is only half the battle — you might also feel stressed out or emotionally drained.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests finding a mental health professional to help you cope with any feelings you may have. Depression can happen to anyone.
Here are some signs your mental health could use a tune-up:
- changing sleep patterns
- feeling nervous or anxious
- morning sadness
- struggling to concentrate or get things done
- withdrawing from friends and family
It’s never a sign of weakness to admit you’re struggling. If you think you’re dealing with depression, whether triggered by diabetes or something else, talk to your doctor.
The ADA has a list of providers who can give you the tools to cope with your symptoms.
Back to those tiny blood vessels. One of the most common diabetes complications is diabetic retinopathy. This is a change in your vision due to leaks from ruptured blood vessels in your eye.
Here’s what you need to look out for:
- new “floaters” in your vision (those weird, stringy blobs that don’t go away when you blink)
- loss of color vision
- a blind spot in the center of your vision
- halo-like glows around lights
If you have any of these symptoms, take a deep breath — it’s possible you just need new glasses. But to be on the safe side, set up an appointment with an eye doctor. The best way to keep tabs on your vision is to get a yearly eye exam (complete with dilation).
According to the CDC, early detection of diabetic retinopathy can prevent blindness in 90 percent of people with diabetes.
Having diabetes also puts your eyes at risk for glaucoma and cataracts, so make those peepers a priority when scheduling annual health checkups.
Whether you rock high heels or dance the night away in flip-flops, your feet take a beating. If you have diabetes, a simple foot ulcer can get serious fast. Ulcers can become infections, which can lead to amputations in severe cases.
Worried about your foot health? Here are your next steps:
- Keep your feet clean and dry whenever possible.
- Wear comfortable shoes (not a bad excuse for investing in a new pair, eh?).
- Make a habit of checking your feet for sores and blisters.
Diabetic neuropathy (aka nerve pain) is one of the most common complications. The pain stems from — you guessed it — damage caused by high blood sugar. The bad news is that nerve damage is hard to pinpoint since it can occur anywhere in your body.
Here are some common symptoms:
- numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
- sensitivity to touch
- stabbing pain
- erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness
- loss of bladder or bowel control
According to the National Institutes of Health, people with diabetes are more likely to develop osteoporosis later in life. Erratic blood sugar levels increase the risk for fractures too.
But there are ways to reduce your risk of brittle bones:
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D.
- Exercise regularly — lifting weights strengthens your bones!
- Talk to your doctor about getting a bone density test.
Peeps with diabetes can develop something called gastroparesis. That’s medical-speak for delayed digestion. Gastroparesis happens when high blood sugar has damaged your vagus nerve, which controls how quickly food moves through your body.
Gastroparesis might feel like:
- fullness even when you haven’t eaten
- stomach spasms
- unexplained weight loss
Eating several small, fiber-packed meals throughout the day helps some people beat the bloat.
News flash: There’s really no such thing as a micro-bladder. Kidney problems, on the other hand, can send you racing to the bathroom to pee every other minute.
Blood sugar issues can lead to kidney damage, which can lead to kidney disease. And sad kidneys make you pee more often.
If you have to pee all the time, have foamy urine, or feel like your feet and ankles are puffing up with extra water, get to the doctor. A simple urine test will determine your needs.
We’re sounding like a broken record here, but wacky blood sugar levels can damage the tiny blood vessels all over your body. That includes the ones in your ears.
A 2019 study found that people with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of hearing loss than people without diabetes and that the risk increases over time.
Our best advice if you’re asking your friends to repeat themselves all the time? Call your doctor (yep, still sounding like a broken record).
What to do about type 2?
If you have T2D, your body can still produce a bit of insulin. Eating healthfully, exercising, and watching your weight are the best ways to prevent long-term complications or even reverse your condition.
And type 1?
Though T1D isn’t reversible, you can still prevent many complications. Keep your blood sugar levels in check and eat healthfully. See your doctor regularly. And quickly address health concerns like digestive issues, foot sores, or blurred vision.
Whether you have T1D or T2D, the future of your health is still in your hands. Commit to a few lifestyle changes — meals full of diabetes-friendly foods, regular exercise, and regular blood sugar checks — and you can live long and prosper. Cheers to that!