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Avoid Complications with Diabetes

By

Brad Bowman, MD

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You treat your type 2 diabetes to keep your blood sugar levels in the normal range. But having “normal” numbers is not the only reason for taking medication, eating right, and exercising. Following your treatment plan also decreases your chance of developing complications or at least minimizes their severity if they do occur.

Complications of type 2 diabetes are more likely and more severe when your average blood sugars are abnormally high over time. And how can you tell if your blood sugar average is running high? The hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test provides a glimpse into your average blood sugar levels over the past several months. A result of 7% or lower indicates good control during that time period. Getting and staying in good control helps you avoid damaging the very small blood vessels in the body; damage to these blood vessels is the cause of most diabetes complications.

When the very small blood vessels of the legs become narrow or blocked, severe skin ulcers can occur. Narrowed blood vessels in the kidneys reduce the kidneys’ ability to remove toxins from the blood. And damage to the vessels of the nerves that let you feel, touch, or notice pain causes numbness and pain called diabetic neuropathy. The inability to feel an ulcer on the foot can lead to infection, which, if severe enough, may result in amputation.

High blood pressure and smoking also damage the small blood vessels and can lead to the same complications associated with high average blood sugar level. The combination of having diabetes and high blood pressure and being a smoker magnifies the damage done to the small blood vessels. This triple threat can cause serious complications.

If you are a smoker, becoming tobacco free is an investment in your health. Undoubtedly, it is really hard to quit smoking; overcoming nicotine addiction involves a lot more than simple willpower. The good news is that your doctor can direct you to effective programs that combine medications, learned coping skills, and group encouragement. Many smokers try and fail several times before reaching success, but for those with diabetes, success comes with real health rewards.

If you know you have high blood pressure, you’re already at an advantage over those who don’t know whether their blood pressure is too high. Whereas a fever tells you if your body temperature is too high, or your pulse tells you if your heart rate is too high, you can’t “feel” when your blood pressure is too high. If you could, it would help focus attention on controlling it. Fortunately, if your doctor has diagnosed you with high blood pressure, there are now numerous medications that can successfully lower blood pressure without causing serious side effects. Over time, you and your doctor can work together to find the right treatment regimen to bring your average blood pressure to levels that will not contribute to damaging small blood vessels.

Once you have placed smoking and high blood pressure in your rearview mirror, your focus can turn solely to managing your diabetes. By making the best food choices and not consuming too many carbohydrates, you’ll make it easier for your body to handle blood sugar, regardless of what type of diabetes medications you may take. Being active on a regular basis also helps to control blood sugar levels. A 20-minute walk four times per week and two sessions of strengthening exercises per week may be all it takes to help keep your numbers in good control, reduce the damage to your blood vessels, and minimize your risk of diabetes-related complications.




THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.


Brad Bowman, MD

Dr. Bowman is the Chief Medical Officer for Healthgrades. He received his medical training at the University of Washington and is board certified in Internal Medicine. View his Healthgrades profile >

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