Did you know that more than 10%, or 34.2 million Americans suffer from Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes? Additionally, 88 million American adults, roughly 1 in 3, have prediabetes. It’s a chronic illness that has long taken hold of our country due to the increasing participation in unhealthy behavior and risk factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and drug abuse just to name a few.
While many Americans hear about diabetic risk factors, they simply think “If you manage your blood sugar, you’ll be fine.” But this disease is significantly more complicated than that. Additionally, if patients don’t improve their general wellness, the risk factors associated with hyperglycemia will take an extensive toll on the body. If people do not properly manage their risk factors associated with diabetes, there can be consequences in the form of additional diagnoses. Some of those compounding risk factors are outlined below, as well as some best practices to minimize their impact.
One of the substantial problems with diabetes and hyperglycemia is that it leads to poor circulation of blood within the body, causing loss of feeling and nerve damage in your extremities. This is most prominent in the feet because they are the furthest part from your heart, making it the most difficult body part to pump blood to. The associated nerve damage means that feet are at higher risk for wounds to develop such as feet ulcers.
Per the American Podiatric Medical Association, 15 percent of diabetic patients will suffer from a diabetic foot ulcer. As many as 1 in 4 of those patients could even require amputation. Not only are foot ulcers more common for diabetes patients, but also more than 50% of diabetic foot wounds become infected, making recovery substantially more difficult to manage. The lack of circulation means that less oxidized blood cells and platelets reach the wound, making clotting more difficult (which is essential for a wound to properly heal). An elevated blood glucose level can also impact the body’s ability to fight off infection, leading to potential complications down the road.
To combat foot ulcers, it is imperative for diabetic patients to maintain balance with their blood sugar and blood pressure. Additionally, patients should eliminate alcohol and tobacco from their daily regimen. To prevent wounds from forming, doctors warn patients to always walk with properly fitting shoes. If shoes are too small, they can cause blisters and pave the ground for ulcers to form. Also, it’s very important for patients to maintain a high activity level to keep the body to increase circulation and improve their cardiac fitness.
Roughly 40 million US adults have Chronic Kidney Disease, and diabetes is the leading cause of CKD. Additionally, type 2 diabetes is the singular leading cause for renal failure for American adults. The same neuropathy that occurs in feet for patients who are hyperglycemic also takes a substantial toll on a person’s kidneys. The problem for most CKD patients is that they are unaware their kidneys are failing until damage is irreparable.
The neuropathy causes damage to patients' blood vessels in their kidneys, which prevent them from functioning as efficiently to filter out waste. The longer this goes on, the more damage is done to the kidneys until their glomerular filtration reaches a critical point and kidneys fail all together. Patients who are diagnosed with diabetes should be made aware of some signs and symptoms of kidney disease, so they can be regularly tested and screened.
In the meantime, patients who have both kidney disease and diabetes must be twice as cognizant of their dietary and activity choices. Foods that are specifically high in certain nutrients such as potassium and sodium can put additional stress on patients' kidneys, as well as throw a patient’s blood sugar out of normal range.
Unfortunately, scientists cannot discern which condition between diabetes and heart disease is more likely to cause the other, but there is an undeniable link in the prevalence of those with cardiovascular risk factors who have also been diagnosed with diabetes. There have studies that suggest hyperglycemia increases the risk of heart failure altogether due to an increased stress the condition has on left ventricular function. Some studies have even found an increased risk between hyperglycemia in heart failure patients who do not have diabetes, suggesting the condition could even be a cause.
Both conditions share similar risk factors, and people with type 2 diabetes are 2-4x more likely to develop heart failure. So, patients who have one condition should have a dialogue with their providers as to how to avoid leading to a diagnosis of the other. To avoid developing heart disease, experts recommend people get 60 minutes of activity per day, in addition to getting at least eight hours of sleep each night. Stress is also a significant risk factor that causes and exacerbates heart disease, so patients should be mindful of their mental wellness.
In the last year, our society has placed an increased emphasis on our health and wellness. But that shouldn’t stop at our hygiene. Instead, we also need to ensure we are tending to what we put in our bodies and how we expend our energy. By reducing the risk factors associated with diabetes and hyperglycemia, patients can also reduce their chances of also being diagnosed with other chronic illnesses.
Heart disease, kidney disease, neuropathy are just a few of the additional conditions a person with chronic hyperglycemia can face, but the list is extensive. So be mindful, and if you have any questions about the potential impact your diagnosis can have towards other illnesses, contact your doctor and start a dialogue.
Jenny Hart is a contributing author on behalf of InsuranceFAQ.net. Jenny has been a copywriter for three years, and covers a wide array of topics ranging from autoimmune diseases to Medicare insurance.