Staying healthy can be a challenge for everyone, especially as we age, but for those managing diabetes, keeping aware of changes in your health is critical. According to the CDC, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death and can lead to permanent disability and serious health issues.
As a registered nurse and the leader of Partners in Care, a licensed home care agency serving the nation’s largest city, I know that our skilled nurses and licensed home health aides are trained to meet the specialized care needs of our clients diagnosed with diabetes. But even when a patient is doing everything right—managing blood sugar levels, exercising, eating healthy—a host of complications can surface, such as heart problems, nerve damage or blindness. It is important to stay in the know on these common diabetes-related complications and know what to watch out for.
Here are five common complications from diabetes:
Heart Disease—According to the ADA, approximately two out of three people living with diabetes die of heart disease. Diabetes affects cholesterol levels and raises the bad cholesterol while lowering the good cholesterol. When this coadition happens, arteries are narrowed by a buildup of fatty materials, and the chances of having a heart attack or stroke double. If you have chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, pain or discomfort in the arms, back, jaw or neck, or have nausea with exertion, call your doctor or 911.
Neuropathy—It is likely that almost half of people with diabetes have nerve damage, according to the ADA. This condition causes loss of sensation, and it makes it easier to injure yourself without noticing. Additionally, poor circulation and neuropathy leads to a compromised immune system—your body can’t fight off infection or heal from wounds quickly. Although not everyone will suffer from neuropathy, be sure to control your blood glucose levels and report symptoms to your doctor.
Foot Problems—Poor circulation and nerve damage can lead to infections of the foot—sometimes serious ones that spread to the bone, leading to amputation. When you notice a cut or other injury on your foot, keep it clean and notify your doctor immediately. You can also avoid infections by keeping toenails short, wearing comfortable shoes and scheduling regular checkups with a podiatrist.
Retinopathy—Eye trouble is common among people living with diabetes. Some symptoms to watch out for include black smudges on the eye, blurred vision, sudden loss of vision in one eye, seeing rings around lights, dark spots and flashing lights. Again, by managing blood glucose levels you can avoid damage to your eyes, and you should also consider annual eye exams by a retina specialist.
Kidney Failure—According to the National Institutes of Health, diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure. Although it takes approximately 15 years to develop, it is a slow-growing problem that those living with diabetes should monitor. Pay attention to fatigue, an increase in urination frequency, lack of concentration, sleep trouble, muscle cramping at night, lack of appetite, eye puffiness and swollen feet/ankles. You can also get routine tests to monitor kidney function.
Today, 26 million Americans are living with the disease, but by 2050, as many as one in three adults could be living with the disease—keep yourself protected and informed. For more information on diabetes care, please visit www.partnersincareny.org or call 1-888-735-8913.
Jennifer Rajewski, RN, is a senior vice president at Partners in Care, an affiliate of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.