Uncontrolled diabetes can control your health. Help prevent these serious diabetes complications by learning the warning signs.
People with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of many serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, vision loss, and amputation. But by keeping your diabetes in check — that means maintaining good blood sugar control — and knowing how to recognize a problem and what to do about it should one occur, you can prevent many of these serious complications of diabetes.
Heart disease and stroke are the top causes of death and disability in people with diabetes. Heart attack symptoms may appear suddenly or be subtle, with only mild pain and discomfort. If you experience any of the following heart attack warning signs, call 911 immediately:
- Chest discomfort that feels like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of your chest, lasting for a short time or going away and returning
- Pain elsewhere, including the back, jaw, stomach, or neck; or pain in one or both arms
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or lightheadedness
If you suddenly experience any of the following stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately. As with a heart attack, immediate treatment can be the difference between life and death. Stroke warning signs may include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially if it occurs on one side of the body
- Feeling confused
- Difficulty walking and talking and lacking coordination
- Developing a severe headache for no apparent reason
People with diabetes are at increased risk of nerve damage, or diabetic neuropathy, due to uncontrolled high blood sugar. Nerve damage associated with type 2 diabetes can cause a loss of feeling in your feet, which makes you more vulnerable to injury and infection. You may get a blister or cut on your foot that you don’t feel and, unless you check your feet regularly, an infection can develop. Untreated infections can result in gangrene (death of tissue) and ultimately amputation of the affected limb. A recent large study from Sweden of 2,480 patients with diabetic foot ulcers found that certain factors increased the likelihood of amputation, including being male and having had diabetes for longer than 23 years.
Diabetes can also make it more difficult for your body to fight infections, causing skin problems. Various skin conditions are linked to diabetes, and even the most minor cuts or sores can turn serious fast. Any bumps, cuts, or scrapes should be cleaned and treated with an antibiotic cream and monitored carefully.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, see your doctor:
- Inflammation and tenderness anywhere on your body
- Red, itchy rash surrounded by small blisters or scales
- Cuts, sores, or blisters on your feet that are slow to heal and are not as painful as you would expect
- Numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in your hands or feet, including your fingers and toes
- Sharp pain that gets worse at night
- Muscle weakness that makes walking difficult
- Bladder infections and problems with bladder control
- Bloating, stomach pain, constipation, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women
Type 2 diabetes increases your risk of kidney disease, or diabetic nephropathy, a condition in which the blood vessels in your kidneys are damaged to the point that they cannot filter out waste properly. If left untreated, dialysis (a treatment to filter out waste products from the blood) and ultimately a kidney transplant may be needed.
Typically, you won’t notice symptoms of kidney disease until it has advanced. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, tell your doctor:
- Swelling in your ankles and legs
- Leg cramps
- A need to go to the bathroom more often at night
- A reduction in your need for insulin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and paleness
The best way to prevent type 2 diabetes-related kidney problems is to have your urine, blood, and blood pressure monitored regularly and to keep your blood sugar and blood pressure under control.
People with type 2 diabetes are at risk of several eye conditions, including diabetic retinopathy (which affects the blood vessels in the eye), glaucoma, and cataracts. If left untreated, these conditions can cause vision loss.
Call your doctor if you notice any of these warning signs:
- Blurry vision that lasts for more than two days
- Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes
- Floaters, black or gray spots, cobwebs, or strings that move when you move your eyes
- A sensation of seeing “flashing lights”
- Pain or pressure in one or both eyes
Hyperglycemia means you have too much sugar in your blood. High blood sugar doesn’t always produce symptoms; therefore, it is important to check your blood sugar regularly, as indicated by your doctor. When symptoms of hyperglycemia occur, they may include:
- Frequent urination
- Extreme thirst
- Feeling tired and weak
- Blurry vision
- Feeling hungry even after eating
If you frequently have high blood sugar, tell your doctor. He or she may need to make changes to your medication and suggest diet and lifestyle modifications to help you gain and maintain better blood sugar control.
The key to preventing many of the complications of diabetes is to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level. To do this, eat right, exercise, monitor your blood sugar as recommended by your doctor, and don’t smoke.
Report any unusual signs or symptoms to your doctor. Together you can work to prevent these diabetes-related health complications.