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What are the Long-Term Effects of Type 2 Diabetes?

Poor blood sugar control causes a myriad of complications most of which are far-reaching. No part of your body is spared.

Type 2 complications are inevitable. As years go by, so does the risk of something going wrong but there are ways of halting or slowing their progression.

  1. High blood pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a disease of your circulatory system associated with the turbulent flow of blood. Because of turbulence within vessels, there is a higher susceptibility to heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease, and visual disturbance.

Doctors recommend checking your blood pressure regularly. Regular exercise, a low-sodium diet and reduction of stress can keep your blood pressure in check. Antihypertensive drugs can be prescribed to lower blood pressure.

  1. Cardiovascular disease

Classically, persons with type 2 diabetes are overweight. This poses the risk of higher triglycerides and LDL cholesterol accumulating within arteries and clogging them. This is known as atherosclerosis.

As the artery lumen gets narrower, you can suffer from a heart attack or other cardiovascular diseases, and stroke, especially with type 2 diabetes.

Knowing the risk factors will prevent complications. If it’s a problem with weight, eating healthy and fitness will suffice. Blood pressure will have to be controlled as well. If you have a smoking addiction, consider quitting as it doubles the risk of heart attacks.

  1. Stroke

High blood pressure, being overweight, smoking, heart disease, and high cholesterol increase the risk of stroke. According to the American Diabetes Association, you are 1.5 times more likely to develop a stroke if you are diabetic.

Most strokes in people with diabetes are because of atherosclerosis and clogged arteries and supply blood rich in oxygen.

  1. Vision problems

Diabetes causes many structural and functional changes in your eyes. This increases the probability of visual diseases like:

  • Glaucoma, because of high pressure in your eye
  • Cataracts, or clouding of the lens of your eye
  • Diabetic retinopathy, due to damaged blood vessels on the retina (back of your eye)

Your eye doctor (ophthalmologist) will advise you to go for regular eye exams to detect any changes in your eye.

  1. Foot ulcers

Glucose tends to reduce immune response, damage nerves, and arteries and this can lead to foot sores, wounds, or ulcers that take long to heal.

Your immune system will not be able to fight off invading bacteria as effectively causing a serious infection that can result in an amputation.

This is known as diabetic foot and is prevented by:

  • Wearing robust, well-fitting shoes with comfortable socks.
  • Clean and dry your feet.
  • Check your feet for sores, blisters, or redness.
  • Report any signs of infection to your doctor.
  1. Nerve damage

Nerve damage in type 2 diabetes is known as diabetic neuropathy. Glucose accumulates in nerve fibers reducing the transmission of the electrical impulse to muscles and other organs.

In most cases, diabetic neuropathy affects nerve supply to hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy) although it can affect nerves that control organs in your body (autonomic neuropathy).

Based on the nerve branches affected, manifestations include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Involuntary bowel or bladder voiding (incontinence)
  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning of hands and feet
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Sharp stabbing pain
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vision problems
  • Weakness
  1. Kidney damage

Elevated blood sugar combined with hypertension can be lethal. Turbulent flow to kidneys and accumulating glucose tampers with your kidneys’ ability to remove waste from the blood. It is vital to keep blood sugar and blood pressure within normal limits to avoid this complication.

Doctors recommend at least annual visits to have urine checked for protein. Presence of protein in urine is an indication of kidney disease.

  1. Depression

While the reason for depression in type 2 diabetes is still a grey area, the numbers show that people with diabetes are at risk of depression.

Diabetes is a chronic disease and this might be the reason for depression. Having to constantly live in fear of complications is upsetting. If you start to feel down and lonely because of diabetes, reach out to a psychiatrist, psychologist, professional counsellor, or your management team for help.

Ask your doctor to refer you to a mental health expert who knows the downs and lows of diabetes. If this doesn’t help, your doctor will consider prescribing antidepressants.

  1. Gastroparesis

When the nerve that controls the movement of food through your gut is damaged, the result is gastroparesis.

Poor blood sugar control over time damages the vagus nerve. As there is nerve damage, food takes longer to digest and move through your digestive tract. This is referred to as delayed gastric emptying.

Features of gastroparesis are:

  • bloating
  • feeling of fullness
  • heartburn, indigestion
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach spasms
  • weight loss

With gastroparesis, you may get erratic blood sugar control because there is impaired movement and digestion of food in intestines. The best way to reduce the chance of damaging your vagus nerve is to keep your blood sugar normal. Your doctor may have to adjust your insulin dose when you develop gastroparesis.

Your diet should have a limited amount of food rich in fiber and fat as these take longer to digest. Instead, space small meals through the day.

  1. Dementia

High blood sugar over time can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, and the risk is compounded with high blood pressure. Your objective is blood sugar and blood pressure control.

  1. Tooth decay

Uncontrolled blood sugar damages small vessels that supply different organs, including teeth and gums. This deprives them of nourishment and puts you at risk of tooth decay and gum infections.

Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste, and floss at least once a day. You should visit a dentist every six months for a checkup.

It is possible to live a long healthy life free of complications with type 2 diabetes. Eat good food, keep fit, monitor your blood sugars, and take your medicine faithfully. Go for regular checkups even when you feel fine because some complications can go unnoticed for years. Ask your management team a lot of questions because the more you know the implication of type 2 diabetes, the less likely you will have to go through complications.

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