Five Steps for Preventing Diabetes Complications

As we enter full-force into the holiday season, it’s a great time to focus on your diabetes self-care and also remind yourself that there are many things that you can do to prevent, or at least delay, some of the scary things about having diabetes. Let’s look at a few of these, as well steps that you can take to ward off diabetes complications and other problems from occurring in the first place.

Forgo those lows. Low blood sugars (also called hypoglycemia) are an annoying but often common side effect of taking insulin and certain types of diabetes pills. Symptoms include shakiness, sweating, hunger, dizziness, feeling irritable, and/or having a headache. Some people who have had diabetes for a long time don’t get obvious symptoms of lows. The danger with this is not treating lows promptly, especially if you’re driving or out walking, for example, where you might fall.

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Action steps: Check your blood sugars regularly and often if you take insulin or a sulfonylurea (such as glyburide [brand names Diabeta, Micronase, and Glynase], glimepiride [Amaryl], and glipizide [Glucotrol and Glucotrol XL]). Definitely check your blood sugar before you get in your car to drive, or before operating machinery (like a lawn mower or snow blower). And always carry treatment for lows with you wherever you go: glucose tablets, glucose gel, juice, and jellybeans are good choices. If you have more than one or two lows per week, talk with your health-care team about how you might tweak your medication, food, or physical activity to help prevent these episodes in the first place.

Fend off foot problems. Cuts or sores that don’t heal, calluses, redness, warm skin, and pain are all red flags to pay attention to. Lack of circulation and nerve damage are often the culprit, along with constant high blood sugars. People who have diabetes are at high risk for amputation; while that sounds super scary, this can easily be prevented by practicing good foot care.

Action steps: Take a peek at your feet every day. Look for the above signs and let your health-care provider know if you’re not seeing any improvement after 24 hours. If you have trouble seeing your feet, ask someone to check them for you, or purchase a special mirror that lets you check the bottoms of your feet. Likewise, visit a podiatrist (foot doctor) to have your toenails cut, especially if you have poor circulation. Wear well-fitting shoes and socks. Finally, always take off your shoes and socks at regular doctor’s visits so that your doctor can properly examine your feet.

See clearly. Diabetic eye disease, which includes retinopathy, is highly preventable, but it’s also a leading cause of severe vision loss and blindness. In early stages, there may be no symptoms of diabetic eye disease. Early detection, treatment, and follow-up are proven ways to protect against vision loss.

Action steps: Always take any changes in your vision very seriously; in particular, if you see dark spots or floaters, or have blurred vision, impaired color vision, or have any vision loss, call your doctor right away. The most important step you can take is to make sure you have a dilated eye exam once a year, or more often, if your doctor recommends it. Don’t delay — get that scheduled today!

Keep your teeth. High blood sugars can wreak havoc with your gums and teeth. Specifically, glucose can lead to bacteria growth, which can cause plaque to build up on your teeth. If the plaque isn’t removed, it can harden into tartar, eventually causing your gums to become swollen and bleed easily. Advanced gum disease, called periodontitis, can set in, raising the risk of tooth loss. You might also notice changes in your bite or how your teeth are spaced in your mouth, and you may also have bad breath.

Action steps: Along with aiming to keep your blood sugars in a safe range, visit your dentist for checkups twice a year, or as often as he or she recommends. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, and floss once a day. Ask your dentist about using an anti-plaque or anti-gingivitis mouth rinse. And don’t forget to eat healthful foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables!

Lower the pressure. People who have diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure (blood pressure of 140/90 or higher) than people who don’t have diabetes. High blood pressure, if not treated, can raise the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease. You may not have any symptoms if you have high blood pressure, which is why it’s so important to get your blood pressure checked regularly. For most people with diabetes, the blood pressure goal is less than 140/90; your goal may be different, so find that out from your doctor.

Action steps: In addition to getting your blood pressure checked at each office visit, ask what your number is. If it’s above your target, talk to your doctor about what you can do to lower it. Following a healthy “DASH” diet, which includes a lot of vegetables and fruits, along with lean meats and whole grains, and fewer high-sodium foods can definitely help. Losing a little bit of weight, stopping smoking, and getting regular physical activity are important steps, too. You may need to take medication; find out your options and make sure you take it as prescribed, even if you feel fine.

In diabetes, as in life, situations sometimes come full circle, Amy Mercer finds. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to read more.