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It’s Complicated – Spotting The Conditions That May Come With Diabetes

Author: Leslie Pepper
Source: Healthy Living Second Quarter 2007

There is good news for those with diabetes. “People are living longer; there’s less heart disease, fewer amputations and less eye disease,” says Richard Jackson, M.D., senior physician at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. The key is catching associated problems early. “Many complications are ‘silent’ so patients may have them without symptoms,” says Joel Zonstein, M.D., director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Don’t wait until you have a problem-work with your health-care provider on prevention, and know potential complications.

Heart Attack And Stroke

The high blood-glucose levels of diabetes can damage the heart and major blood vessels in the body, boosting heart attack and stroke risk. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease and have a stroke than people without the disease. Watch out for chest pain; trouble when you walk; weakness in your legs or on one side of the body; shortness of breath; pain that radiates to the neck or arms.


High blood pressure, or hypertension, is especially common in people with diabetes. In fact, about 70 percent of those with diabetes have hypertension. Coupled with diabetes, high blood pressure further increases your risk of heart disease and other diabetes-related complications. Watch out for high blood pressure itself. There aren’t really any signs or symptoms that it’s rising. But your doctor can-and should- monitor it. Keep it under 130/80.


Diabetic retinopathy cause 12,000 to 24,000 cases of blindness each year. A disease of the light-sensing region of the inner eye, it occurs when the vessels that supply blood to the retina are damaged. Nearly everyone with type 1 and half of those with type 2 show signs of retinopathy. Watch out for blurry vision; difficulty reading; double vision, spots or floaters; loss of peripheral vision; pain or pressure in your eyes.


Diabetes not only affects large blood vessels, boosting heart attack and stroke risks-it can also harm tiny blood vessels in the kidneys. The damage makes it hard for the kidneys to perform their job: filtering out impurities in the blood. (Uncontrolled blood pressure cause kidney damage to occur sooner.) Watch out for fluid buildup and weakness. Most people are unaware of kidney problems until very late: Noticeable problems don’t occur until 80 percent of the kidneys are damaged, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Control your blood pressure, and at least once a year have a urinalysis done to check for protein in the urine.


The high blood-glucose levels associated with diabetes can delay, change or stop the electrical messages nerve cells send around the body. Damage can range from pain in your feet and hands to digestion or bladder troubles to carpal tunnel syndrome. About 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes will have some form of neuropathy, says the ADA. Watch out for loss of feeling or heightened feeling in any part of the body; pain, especially in the feet; tingling in hands or fingers that dissipates when arms are relaxed.


White blood cells-necessary for fighting off viruses and bacteria-are less effective when there’s too much glucose in the blood; this means that people with diabetes are more vulnerable to a variety of infections. Because the mouth is loaded with bacteria, the gums are a common site of infection. Almost a third of those with diabetes have severe gum disease. Skin disease is also common.

Watch out for sores that are slow to heal; loose teeth; redness or a warm sensation on the skin around a cut; any sign of infection. Be especially vigilant for signs of foot infection.