What are other problems and complications associated with diabetes mellitus?
Many people with diabetes mellitus eventually develop complications, especially if it is not controlled well. Even if the diabetes is controlled well, complications can still occur. The good news is that short-term complications can be easy to fix and that proper treatment of diabetes mellitus usually delays complications. The bad news is that long-term complications are difficult to control and can cause someone to die earlier than normal. Keep in mind as you read this section that there are some individuals who have had diabetes mellitus for over 50 years and have experienced few complications.
A very common short-term complication of diabetes mellitus is hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar levels). This complication can occur during treatment if the amount of food eaten and the amount of insulin taken are not balanced properly. Hypoglycemia is more common in people with Type I diabetes but can occur in people with Type II diabetes who take sulfonylurea drugs. Sulfonyurea drugs increase the production of insulin from cells in the pancreas. If untreated, hypoglycemia can cause seizures, which are involuntary muscle movements and/or decreased awareness of the environment due to overexcitement of nerve cells in the brain. Ketoacidosis (described in the section above) is an example of a short-term complication of diabetes.
High levels of sugar in the blood make it more difficult for the body to fight against infections. This can lead to infections of the urinary tract, which is the part of the body that deals with the formation and excretion of urine (pee). To excrete means to release from the body as waste. Skin infections can also result, as can vaginal yeast infections (a type of infection of the female reproductive organ). Small blood vessels throughout the body get damaged as a result of diabetes. Eye problems can develop as a complication, such as retinopathy (also known as diabetic retinopathy), which is damage to the retina and the blood vessels that serve it. The retina is an area at the back of the eye that is sensitive to light. Blood vessels are tube-shaped structures that carry blood to and from the heart. Both large and small blood vessels also start to break down quicker in people with diabetes mellitus. Blood may also have a difficult time moving throughout the body as a result of diabetes mellitus.
Another complication is peripheral neuropathy (also known as diabetic neuropathy), which is damage to nerve fibers outside of the brain or spine. Peripheral neuropathy can cause a gradual loss of sensation starting at the hands and feet, which sometimes moves up the arms and legs. Loss of feeling and poor blood circulation makes the body more susceptible to ulcers (open sores) and gangrene (tissue death due to poor blood supply or infection of a wound.). Peripheral neuropathy can also cause dizziness when standing up as well as impotence in men. Impotence is an inability to maintain an erect penis.
Kidney damage can occur as a complication of diabetes mellitus, which can lead to kidney failure. The kidneys are two organs located on each side of the spine, behind the stomach. The kidneys filter (remove) wastes from the blood. The kidney damage may need to be treated by a kidney transplant or dialysis. Dialysis is a technique in which one is hooked up to a machine that performs the functions of the kidneys, removing wastes and extra water from the blood.
Another complication of diabetes mellitus is a higher risk for atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of arteries (blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart). Atherosclerosis can cause damage to large blood vessels, which is a major cause of stroke and coronary artery disease. A stroke is a burst artery (a type of blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart) or a blockage of an artery in the brain. Coronary artery disease is a narrowing of coronary arteries, which supply the heart with blood. The narrowing of coronary arteries causes heart damage. People with diabetes also have a greater chance to have increased levels of cholesterol, which can speed up the development of atherosclerosis. Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance found only in animal tissues.
High blood pressure, other heart disorders, and cataracts are additional complications associated with diabetes mellitus. Cataracts is a darkening of the lens in the eye. The lens is an organ located between the colored part of the eye, that bends light as it enters the eye. A very important issue for people with diabetes mellitus to be concerned about is good foot care. This is because one complication of diabetes mellitus is ulcers (open sores) on the feet. In severe cases, ulcers can develop into gangrene. Gangrene is death of a tissue, usually due to a loss of blood supply. If a foot sore develops, you should see the doctor immediately.
With good foot care, ulcers and infections can usually be prevented. Good foot care involves inspecting the feet and washing and drying the feet carefully. If the skin on the feet is dry, it is recommended to use a moisturizer to keep them moist. Good foot care also involves wearing comfortable shoes, not walking barefoot, cutting toenails straight across, and visiting the foot doctor regularly.