How Does Diabetes Affect The Body?
Knowing how diabetes affects your body can help you look after your body and prevent diabetic complications from developing.
Many of the effects of diabetes stem from the same guilty parties; namely high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and a lack of blood glucose control.
Signs of diabetes
When undiagnosed or uncontrolled, the effects of diabetes on the body can be noticed by the classic symptoms of diabetes, namely:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent need to urinate
- Blurred vision and
- Tingling or pain in the hands, feet and/or legs
Long term effects of diabetes on the body
In addition to the symptoms, diabetes can cause long term damage to our body. The long term damage is commonly referred to as diabetic complications.
Diabetes affects our blood vessels and nerves and therefore can affect any part of the body.
However, certain parts of our body are affected more than other parts.
Diabetic complications will usually take a number of years of poorly controlled diabetes to develop. Complications are not a certainty and can be kept at bay and prevented by maintaining a strong level of control on your diabetes, your blood pressure and cholesterol.
These can all be helped by keeping to a healthy diet, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, and incorporating regular activity into your daily regime in order to keep blood sugar levels within recommended blood glucose level guidelines.
The effect of diabetes on the heart
Diabetes and coronary heart disease are closely related.
Diabetes contributes to high blood pressure and is linked with high cholesterol which significantly increases the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.
Diabetes and strokes
Similar to how diabetes affects the heart, high blood pressure and cholesterol raises the risk of strokes.
How diabetes affects the eyes
A relatively common complication of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy.
As with all complications, this condition is brought on by a number of years of poorly controlled or uncontrolled diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy has a number of symptoms.
Retinopathy is caused by blood vessels in the back of the eye (the retina) swelling and leaking. High blood pressure is also a contributing factor for diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy can be treated so it’s best to catch it as early as you can. The best way to do this is to attend a retinopathy screening appointment, provided free on the NHS, once each year.
The effect of diabetes on the nerves and blood vessels can also lead to problems including:
- Trouble with digestion
- Sexual dysfunction
- Slow wound healing
People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing complications but not everyone does. People with normal blood pressure, cholesterol and well controlled diabetes have a better chance of avoiding or significantly delaying long term damage to the body.
To reduce the chances of developing problems associated with diabetes, people are advised to take steps to improve their health and blood sugar levels. A good diet and regular activity is an important step in helping to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels.
Medication can also play a part where lifestyle changes are not sufficient. With type 1 diabetes, or other diabetes types where not enough insulin is being produced, insulin will need to be administered by injection or insulin pump.
Effect of diabetes on the kidneys
The kidneys are another organ that is at particular risk of damage as a result of diabetes and the risk is again increased by poorly controlled diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Diabetic nephropathy is the term for kidney disease as a result of diabetes.
Damage to the kidneys takes place over a period of years and can picked up by nephropathy screening before it gets too serious. Treatment includes lifestyle changes and may include medicine to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Diabetes and its effects on the nerves
The effects of diabetes on the nerves can be serious as the nerves are involved in so many of our bodily functions, from movement and digestion through to sex and reproduction.
The presence of nerve damage (neuropathy) is commonly noticed by:
- Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
- Lack of arousal in the penis or clitoris
- Excessive sweating or
- Diagnosis of delayed stomach emptying
Treatments for neuropathy concentrates on reducing pain but medication such blood pressure lowering drugs may also be prescribed to help prevent development of the condition.
Diabetes and its effect on digestion
Diabetes can affect digestion in a number of ways. If diabetes has caused nerve damage, this can lead to nausea, constipation or diarrhoea.
An alternative cause of disturbed digestion can be the result of diabetes medication.
Some type 2 diabetes medications for instance are prone to causing digestive issues, although these tend to settle down after the body gets used to them.
How diabetes affects the skin
Diabetes affect on the skin is usually a result of its affect on the nerves and circulation which can lead to dry skin, slow healing of cuts, burns and wounds, fungal and bacterial infections and loss of feeling in the foot.
People with diabetes are recommended to have their feet checked at least once a year. The effect of diabetes on the feet is often referred to as diabetic foot.