Diabetes can cause a wide range of health complications, affecting almost every part of the body. Most of these diabetic complications are brought on by the long-term effects of high blood sugar, and can be prevented, minimized or at least delayed by proper control of the patient’s blood glucose levels. However, many of these complications can develop and become quite severe before the patient even realizes there is a problem brewing, hence the reason diabetes can be called a “silent killer’ among diseases.
Amputation Due to Diabetes
Perhaps the two most disturbing diabetic complication is deformation and amputation of the feet or lower legs. While this complication is certainly a possibility for the diabetic, it is also perhaps the most easily prevented of diabetes’ many potential complications. Generally founded in a severe case of peripheral neuropathy, poor blood circulation, and neglect on the part of the diabetic patient, such amputations can be almost entirely prevented by simple daily care of the feet and legs, even with the presence of neuropathy and related complications.
Diabetic blindness is another particularly off-putting potential complication that can be prevented with proper care on the part of the patient and regular visits to his/her eye doctor. High blood sugar causes a number of problems with the circulatory system, which can lead to diabetic retinopathy, and eventual blindness if left untreated. However, if the early stages of retinopathy are detected through regular medical checkups, and treated via simple laser surgery, diabetic blindness can often be avoided entirely.
Other Diabetic Complications
Other diabetic complications are not as easy to diagnose or treat, and are best prevented by diligent control of one’s blood glucose levels. However, any diabetic specialist worth the patient’s time will screen regularly for signs of macro and microangiopathy (damage to the blood vessels, both large and small), and related complications like nephropathy (loss of kidney function due to blood vessel damage), peripheral vascular disease (loss of proper circulation in the legs and feet), dermopathy (chronic skin damage and difficulty healing), and coronary artery disease (which can lead to fatal heart problems).
Knowing the signs, symptoms and preventative measures for the most common diabetic complications can be an invaluable aid for the diabetic patient trying to maximize his/her long-term good health. But as with everything related to diabetes, the single most important preventative measure any patient can take is to control their blood sugar levels as well as possible, and to diligently follow a qualified doctor’s recommendations for their lifestyle and dietary choices.
Diabetic Retinopathy is caused by diabetes. It affects the retina, which is the inner sensitive tissue lining found at the back of the eye. Many eye doctors relate the retina to that of camera film. If damage comes to the film, the picture is never seen. This is what Diabetic Retinopathy does to the retina. Controlling of your blood sugar level and getting regular eye checks for diabetics is very important in prevention of diabetic retinopathy.
There are 4 main stages to Diabetic Retinopathy. Below I have outlined them to give you a better understanding of this eye disease.
- Mild non-proliferative retinopathy: This is the first stage of diabetic retinopathy and can occur once diabetes has attacked the retina’s circulatory system. The walls of the retinal capillaries become weak and micro-aneurysms occur. Micro-aneurysms are tiny balloon-like pouches located in small blood vessels of the eyes. They can cause a leakage of blood, hemorrhages, swelling, and death of the retina.
- Moderate non-proliferative retinopathy: This is the second stage of diabetic retinopathy. Existing symptoms worsen in this stage and the blood vessels of the retina can become blocked.
- Severe non-proliferative retinopathy: This is the third stage of diabetic retinopathy. At this point, more retinal blood vessels are blocks and the retina lacks oxygen. The body tries to correct this by growing new blood vessels to nourish the retina.
- Proliferative retinopathy: This is the fourth and final stage of diabetic retinopathy. This stage can cause the retina to detach. As the new blood vessels are made, they grow not only on the surface of the retina but on vitreous gel that fills your eye. Because of the blood vessels being new, they are also quite delicate. Eye checks for diabetics can show that these will bleed and leak, creating masked vision, blind spots, and eventually blindness due to the detachment of the retina.
The stages of this disease are very important to understand but what is even more important is the disease known as macular edema. This is the number one cause of blindness and can be determined with eye checks for diabetics. The macula is a vital part of our vision and is where our detailed vision happens. When liquid leaks into the middle of the macula from the delicate blood vessels, the macula swells up and this is what is referred to macular edema. Macular edema can occur at any level of diabetic retinopathy, but is most popularly found in those who have an advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy. 50% of patients who have been diagnosed with proliferative retinopathy will also be diagnosed with macular edema.
The symptoms of diabetic retinopathy can differ greatly, but what is most alarming is that sometimes no symptoms will show up, especially within stage 1 and 2 of the disease. This is the reason why regular eye checks for diabetics must be pursued. You can have perfect vision and still have proliferative retinopathy and macular edema. Early detection and quick treatment can help in the prevention of blindness.
All patients who have been diagnosed with Diabetes type 1 of Diabetes type 2 should receive a dilated eye exam a minimum of once a year. If diabetic retinopathy is found, eye exams should be done more frequently and treatment will proceed to try to stop the process from furthering.
The longer you have been diagnosed with diabetes, the higher your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. It is stated that 40% to 45% of all Americans who have been diagnosed with diabetes will have some sort of diabetic retinopathy. Controlling your blood sugar level can slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy. Keeping control of your cholesterol and blood pressure can also reduce the risk of blindness. Having regular eye checks for diabetics can also help.
Treating diabetic retinopathy will highly depend on the stage with which it has reached. Many times your eye doctor will perform special tests to monitor your disease and assist in making the right treatment options. Be prepared to be referred to a specialist to help with the treatment you will need to receive. Diabetic retinopathy is normally treated with a laser treatment that is referred to as PRP. PRP is pan-retinal photocoagulation. Macular edema is normally treated with a focal laser used on the surrounding areas of the macula. Both have had high success at vision loss reduction, but they will not cure the diseases. You will always have a high risk of new problems arising. If the bleeding within your eye is drastic, then you may have to undergo a surgical technique called a Vitrectomy. This removes the blood from the middle of the eye. You can still require additional treatments if the first ones didn’t work completely or other complications arise, such as the detachment of the retina.
18 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes. If you are among that number, it is highly suggested that you keep all regular scheduled eye checks for diabetics to help in the prevention of blindness.