Complications of Diabetes

One might think that Type 1 diabetes is a condition that only affects the Pancreas because the pancreas is the organ that produces Insulin. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Over time, Type 1 diabetes can have devastating affects on an otherwise healthy person, resulting in complications that range from being inconvenient to leading to death.

Some of the complications associated with Type 1 diabetes are:
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Nerve damage
  • Retinopathy (Eye disease which causes blindness)
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Poor circulation
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Kidney disease and kidney failure
  • Gastroparesis
  • Tooth decay and gum disease
  • Infections that won't heal
  • Amputation of extremities
For many diabetics, keeping Blood glucose levels in strict control will lessen the risk of developing the complications listed above or at the very least, lessen their severity. However, many Type 1 diabetics are diagnosed at a very early age, making it difficult to teach the child how important blood glucose control is regarding their overall health. Unfortunately, once out of a parent's control, young teens and young adults may not pay as close attention to their condition as they should during the high school and college years where a lot of damage to the kidneys and heart can become serious.
By nature, the teen and young adult years are times for discovery and rebellion. A child who is tired of daily monitoring might begin to slack off in order to feel like the rest of the group. It is essential for parents and physicians to make it clear to Type 1 diabetics at a very early age the severity and likelihood of complications so they will take ownership of their care to prevent complications from occurring.
The Type 1 diabetic has two times the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke as someone without diabetes because blood glucose increases the amount of fatty deposits inside blood vessels. The more buildup of fatty deposits, the greater likelihood of having clogged arteries. Symptoms of heart disease tend to appear much earlier in a diabetic because of this.
Diabetes coupled with smoking and alcohol consumption increase the risk of nerve damage. Elevated blood glucose levels, autoimmune factors that cause inflammation, and the duration of diabetes all play a factor in how much nerve damage the diabetic will have. Some diabetics will have no symptoms of numbness (which can be anywhere in the body, including organs), tingling, or pain. However, as many as 70% of all diabetics have some form of nerve damage.
Too much blood glucose over a prolonged period of time as well as high blood pressure can damage the retina, vitreous, lens and optic nerve of the eye. Inside the eye are tiny blood vessels. Like with heart disease, blood glucose will deposit fatty tissue in these tiny blood vessels causing them to swell and become weak. Diabetics should have a full eye examine yearly to check for damage.
Erectile dysfunction or ED, the inability to achieve an erection, is a complication of diabetes resulting from damage to nerves and blood vessels of the penis. ED is a physical condition and happens even when a male is aroused sexually. Fortunately, there have been advancements in medication and surgery over the years to help diabetic men with this problem.
Kidney disease or kidney failure is quite common in the Type 1 diabetic and can begin to occur as early as the pre-teen years. Even when the diabetic is considered in control of blood glucose levels, kidney damage can occur. The kidneys rid the body of waste. When the kidneys fail the diabetic needs to go on dialysis, an artificial blood cleaning process, to prevent that waste from backing up into the person's body. In more advanced cases, when the kidneys have failed completely, the diabetic will need a kidney transplant.
When food moves from the stomach to the small intestines too slowly, the Type 1 diabetic will develop what is known as gastroparesis. This normally happens because of nerve damage to the stomach nerves, preventing them from working properly. Diabetics who experience gastroparesis may feel mild or severe symptoms of heartburn, pain in the upper abdomen, nausea, vomiting of undigested food, a feeling of fullness at the beginning of a meal, bloating, lack of appetite, gastroesophageal reflux, and stomach spasms.
Gasroparesis becomes dangerous if the food stays too long in the stomach allowing bacteria to form. Diabetics are especially sensitive to bacterial infections, since bacteria feeds off glucose. Also, food left to sit in the stomach can become hard, making it nearly impossible to pass through the small intestines without medical intervention.
Because high levels of glucose will lead to tooth decay and gum disease, Type 1 diabetics have to be vigilant about seeing their dentist regularly and having good oral care. Brushing, flossing and taking fluoride, especially when the child is young and still losing baby teeth, is important to prevent cavities and tooth loss. Also, the mouth is normally full of bacteria, even when a person has good oral care. Bacteria and glucose are not a good combination as a small nick in the mouth could easily lead to infection.
As mentioned earlier, bacteria feeds off glucose. Therefore, the diabetic, whose glucose level is higher than normal, needs to pay particular attention to any cuts and abrasions they have to make sure they heal well and do not become infected. Extremities are at high risk of infection as diabetics are prone to poor circulation, which helps aid healing of any cuts and abrasions. Add elevated levels of glucose with slower circulation and the Type 1 diabetic is at a higher risk of infection that could lead to amputation, if not taken care of properly. The diabetic should report any signs of infection to their doctor for immediate treatment.