Complications From Type 2 Diabetes - Should I Be Worried?
We all know Type 2 diabetes can hurt: emotionally, mentally and obviously physically. Diabetes causes issues, but some of us may not be truly aware of the dangers we face. Following standard medical protocols has turned out for many to cause disastrous consequences. In this blog, I outline some common complications as well as some chronic conditions. But, this isn’t about scaring you - it's about educating you, so take a deep breath and understand that Type 2 diabetes IS treatable. It's not a death sentence or even exceedingly difficult to manage if done properly. With a little knowledge about what's what, you can arm yourself with the tools to combat this disease. Let's get started...
What are some acute (developing suddenly and generally not long lasting) complications that can occur because of Type 2 diabetes?
First on the list is diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This is a medical emergency and the severity cannot be understated - it is not to be confused with intentional (and benign dietary) ketosis which occurs on an extremely low carb diet. DKA occurs when your body can't burn sugars properly, so it starts breaking down and burning your own fat and muscle. You may find yourself with severe abdominal pain and later lethargy which can progress to diabetic coma. DKA can easily become severe enough to cause hypotension (low, and sometimes dangerously low blood pressure), shock and even death.
Hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia are also common conditions that can occur due to untreated Type 2 diabetes. This happens when the body has too much or not enough blood sugar in the system. These imbalances are as common as they are dangerous. Some medical doctors describe the effect of excessive glucose on your blood vessels as though shards of glass were traveling through the bloodstream and cutting and damaging the delicate lining of the blood vessels as these glucose molecules travel through the bloodstream. As with DKA, medical treatment is necessary.
As for acute conditions most people have heard of diabetic coma. This occurs when hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia have progressed to the point that the patient's body shuts down and goes into a comatose state. Medical treatment is obviously needed and unfortunately diabetic coma is not all that uncommon. Why? Many ignore their health decline and don't take action while they can. Diabetic coma can result in permanent brain damage for many who experience it and 50% of diabetic comas result in the death of the patient.
Again, these are some acute conditions that are not long lasting and can generally be resolved with prompt medical care.
What about chronic conditions? What should I be informed of?
As we've discussed in other features, diabetic patients often become immunocompromised. Your body is simply not working in peak condition and that can leave you susceptible to all kinds of illness from viruses to infection. A good example of that is how poorly many diabetics responded to our recent Covid-19 pandemic. Many diabetics became extremely ill and many diabetics died from Covid.
What about your heart? Many Type 2 diabetics don't understand the toll that inconsistent blood sugar numbers can have on their heart. WebMD reports that “data from the National Heart Association from 2012 shows 65% of people with diabetes will die from some sort of heart disease or stroke. In general, the risk of heart disease, death and stroke are more than twice as high in people with diabetes.”
Since diabetes damages blood vessels, the small vessels of the kidneys are significantly at risk. This small blood vessel damage can result in compromised kidney function that causes high blood pressure and also can lead to kidney failure. Many diabetics spend the last years of their lives on kidney dialysis, a difficult, physically-draining procedure which takes much of the joy out of life. This kidney failure often leads to death of the diabetes patient.
Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage caused by a number of different conditions, most common of which is diabetes. The Mayo Clinic says that “people with peripheral neuropathy generally describe the pain in the feet or hands as stabbing, burning or tingling.” As peripheral neuropathy advances, patients often report lack of coordination and falling. But peripheral neuropathy is not limited to the feet and hands. “Every nerve in your peripheral nervous system (nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord) has a specific function, so symptoms depend on the type of nerves affected. Autonomic nerves control functions such as blood pressure, perspiration, heart rate, digestion and bladder function.” So, peripheral neuropathy can affect many parts of the body and many functions of the body.
Retinopathy (any damage to the retina of the eyes, which may cause vision impairment.) This is usually caused by damage to the blood vessels of the eyes from excessive glucose levels in the blood. It can cause vision loss and even blindness.
Many diabetics develop ulcers on their skin or blisters on their toes and because of their slow wound healing, these seemingly minor problems can turn into major problems and can cause long-term stress and immobility for many diabetics. Many of these problems end up being solved by amputations. Because amputation creates a bigger wound, often once a diabetic patient experiences an amputation poor wound healing results in further amputations.
Amputations: (See above) Diabetes is the number one cause of lower extremity amputations in the United States at this time.
Periodontal disease: When your circulation is compromised, it can even affect your teeth and gums. The American Dental Association says that “Periodontal disease is the most common dental disease affecting those living with diabetes, affecting nearly 22% of those diagnosed. Especially with increasing age, poor blood sugar control increases the risk for gum problems. In fact, people with diabetes are at a higher risk for gum problems because of poor blood sugar control. As with all infections, serious gum disease may cause blood sugar to rise. This makes diabetes harder to control because patients are more susceptible to infections and are less able to fight the bacteria invading the gums.” “This chronic inflammatory disease can destroy your gums, all the tissues holding your teeth and even your bones.”
The American Dental Association also lists complications of diabetes as dry mouth which also causes an increase in plaque on your teeth leading to more cavities, gums that bleed easily, red, swollen, tender gums and bad breath. You may have problems tasting food, you may experience delayed wound healing and you may be susceptible to infections inside your mouth.
There is Hope!
These are just some of the complications that can easily arise with unchecked Type 2 diabetes. At The Human Engine Clinic we want you to be as healthy as you can be and live your best life, so if you're concerned about that foot tingling you've been feeling or your eyesight fading a bit, we urge you to give us a call to discuss your concerns. You only get one body, and it's important you're good to it - and we can help. Type 2 diabetes can be extremely manageable and even reversible* with the right care and considerations. Stay tuned for more info on how you can limit your risk for the above complications.
In good health,
Richard F. Gringeri, DC
*By reversible, we mean that instead of your blood glucose being elevated as in Type 2 diabetes, your blood glucose can usually be brought to a normal level and can be maintained there without the need for medicines or insulin for very extended periods of time (e.g. years). Better blood glucose control tends to protect you from the complications described above. Even with greatly improved blood glucose control, Type 2 diabetes will always include monitoring and management by your medical doctor.