To start with, diabetes complications can be reduced, delayed and even prevented if the person manages his condition carefully. Complications can occur on the short term and long run. Main acute (short term) complications are due to either a significant decrease or significant increase in blood glucose. Main long term complications are due to persistent hyperglycemia affecting large vessels (macrovascular complications) and small vessel (microvascular complications).
Significant Decrease in Blood Glucose or Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is when blood sugar drops below 70 mg/dL. This low glycemia can be manifested in the following symptoms:
- Trembling and nervousness
- Dizziness and fatigue
- Blurred vision
- And in very severe cases, coma
Symptoms and their severity vary between people.
When a person with diabetes experiences these signs, it is important to test glucose. If below 70 mg/dl, give 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup carbonated beverage, 1 tablespoon of honey, 15g of glucose tablets. Retest in 15 minutes and repeat the procedure if necessary.
In case of unconsciousness, a glucagon injection or IV glucose is needed. People should be rushed to the hospital for proper treatment.
Significant Increase in Blood Glucose or Hyperglycemia
Hyperglycemia is a major manifestation of poorly controlled diabetes. If persistent it can lead to serious complications.
Hyperglycemia is treated with insulin adjustment and exercise.
N.B. Do not exercise if blood glucose is higher than 240 mg/dL because, at such high levels, there is a high possibility of having ketones present in the urine.
Many cases of type 1 diabetes are diagnosed after a life-threatening complication called diabetes ketoacidosis (DKA) characterized by extremely elevated hyperglycemia, A1C and ketones.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major complication and the leading cause of death among people with diabetes.
CVD risk is reduced by proper glycemia management and physical activity along with medication.
These complications affect tiny (micro) vessels (vascular) in the body such as the ones in the eyes and kidneys.
Kidney problems or Nephropathy
In a simple approach, diabetes can injure the kidneys by damaging the vessels leading to the kidneys and nerves related to the bladder. Kidney problems occur in 20 to 40% of diabetes cases and can be significantly reduced if diabetes is managed properly.
Consult your doctor for regular kidney tests and check ups.
Eye problems or Retinopathy
Diabetes, by affecting small vessels, can damage your retina and lead to various eye problems in particular diabetic retinopathy.
Eye care is crucial even if your sight is ok.
Nerve damage or Neuropathy
When diabetes affects nerves, this means your whole body is affected: your stomach, your brain, your bladder, etc.
Leading a healthy lifestyle with regular physical activity reduces the risk of neuropathy and other complications resulting from nerve damage.