How Serious is Diabetes?

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, while fundamentally different diseases, are both very serious. Each requires professional diagnosis by testing the blood sugar levels and careful monitoring. High blood sugar is toxic to all parts of the body, from the tiny capillaries in the eye and kidneys to the deep tissues in the arms and legs. The consequences of this type of damage are permanent and in some cases life-threatening. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Taking Type 1 Diabetes Seriously

Once a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been made, it is important to comply with the doctor’s directions on insulin therapy and lifestyle changes. It is vital that the newly diagnosed diabetic learn how to monitor blood sugar and create healthful menu plans that exclude (or drastically limit) fast food calories. Partnerships with health professionals and other family members are important sources of support.

Avoid the Problems, Not the Disease

It’s hard for young people who have this disease because they want to “fit in” with their peers and be seen as people, not victims of a disease. Considering the lifestyle of today’s youth—overloaded daily schedules, gulping down fast food calories loaded with carbohydrates, and stressed with exams and social pressures—it’s no mystery that they are the most at risk for serious complications of high blood sugar.

The most serious complication for Type 1 diabetes is diabetic ketoacidosis and it can be fatal. Missing insulin therapy injections, infections or stress may trigger this.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Ketones are a by-product of fat metabolism. In people with diabetes, the body metabolizes fats for energy if insulin is not available to utilize blood glucose. This can result in the toxic accumulation of ketones in the blood and is a life threatening condition if not treated promptly. Ketones can be detected in urine with a simple dip stick test.

Adapted from the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Can a person be careful enough in real life and avoid these problems? Yes, there are ways to achieve control:

  • Carefully follow the physician’s instructions.
  • Monitor blood sugar levels 4 times a day or as recommended.
  • Take insulin therapy shots as prescribed.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise.
  • Balance daily carbohydrate/protein/fat intakes; avoid fast food calories.
  • Better manage or eliminate stresses through lifestyle changes.
  • Schedule regular checkups for eyes, teeth, and feet.

Choosing to ignore the precautions could lead to another complication known as hypoglycemia or insulin shock. If a person has too little food or too much alcohol, the blood’s sugar level drops. Become familiar with the symptoms of hypoglycemia and seek immediate medical attention should any occur:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • confusion
  • disorientation
  • sweating.

Without the proper intervention hypoglycemia can progress into seizures and coma.

Long-Term Complications

Diabetic complications can read like a horror novel, but remember that much of this can be avoided through education about the disease and being careful. Complications may create blood vessel and nerve damage, which can lead to loss of sensation and numbness. The cardiovascular system may become damaged potentially causing a heart attack or stroke.

Damage to small blood vessels from high blood sugar may affect eyesight, leading to cataracts, glaucoma, or blindness. Other small vessel damage can impair kidney function. This leads to further complications because high blood pressure results from kidney damage, leading to further risks for developing heart disease. Circulatory system complications can develop causing deep tissue damage in the legs and feet. Without early detection and treatment, foot or leg amputation may be necessary.

All of this can be prevented by early detection, education and cooperation with your health care provider.