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Uncontrolled Diabetes Can Damage the Eyes, Kidneys, Heart, and Other Organs and Raise Your Risk of Severe Illness from COVID-19
By Tom Thomas, D.O.
Diabetes requires a special level of attention and care, but did you know that if you have diabetes, blood sugar alone isn't all that you should be monitoring? Having diabetes puts you at a higher risk of a number of potential complications. It's important to know what these are so that you are seeing the correct physicians and checking for signs of potential problems.
Take Precautions to Avoid COVID-19
If you're not already aware, Type 2 diabetes, obesity (BMI between 30 and 40), and severe obesity (BMI equal to or greater than 40) are three of the 10 underlying medical conditions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently lists as creating increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. The CDC urges everyone at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and those who live with them, to take the following precautions:
- Stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines
- Get tested if you have symptoms
- Follow recommendations for what to do if you have been exposed
- Stay home if you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19
- Seek treatment if you have COVID-19 and are at high risk of getting very sick
- Avoid contact with people who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19
- Wear a mask or respirator
Keep a Close Eye on Eyes
High blood sugar affects the blood vessels and nerves all over the body but can especially wreak havoc on the tiny vessels and nerve endings in your eyes. Because of this, diabetics are at a higher risk for glaucoma, cataracts, and retinopathy.
Make sure you are controlling your blood sugar, regulating your blood pressure, and seeing an eye doctor regularly to check for vision loss. While losing sight is an additional worry for many patients, the good news is that treatment options for conditions like retinopathy and glaucoma have improved by leaps and bounds. The key to being able to treat them, however, is making sure they're diagnosed early.
Take Care of Your Kidneys
High blood sugar can cause damage to the blood vessels in the kidneys. This damage causes waste products to build up in the blood instead of filtering it out like the kidneys are supposed to do, and this can eventually lead to organ damage known as nephropathy. The best way to keep this from happening is to aggressively regulate your blood sugar as your doctor suggests, which is typically with medication compliance, healthy, active lifestyle habits, and low-carb and reduced saturated fat intake. You'll also need to have regular screenings and avoid smoking, which can cause damage to your cardiovascular system.
Be Aware of Cardiovascular Risks and Others
High blood glucose levels increase the risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, angina, and coronary artery disease. Adults with diabetes also tend to have one or more of the following: high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, high triglycerides, and obesity – all of which contribute to high rates of cardiovascular disease. By controlling these risk factors, diabetes patients may avoid or delay the development of heart and blood vessel disease. Your doctor may do periodic testing to assess whether you have developed any of these risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.
Diabetes may also cause nerve damage, otherwise known as diabetic neuropathy. If the blood vessels that feed your nerves become damaged, the nerves themselves will eventually be damaged as well. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is the most common form of nerve damage, and it most often affects the nerves going to the hands and feet. Those who have it may lose sensation in their feet. They may not realize when they have a sore on their foot. If it becomes infected, the infection can spread to the point of requiring amputation to keep it from spreading further. Regular foot exams by your doctor and a podiatrist are important to help prevent this from happening.
While these secondary problems associated with diabetes are serious, the good news is you may be able to lower your risks by following your physician's recommendations, properly monitoring and controlling your blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy weight, regularly checking your blood pressure, and exercising.