Amy Tenderich was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in May of 2003. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Diabetes Mine and co-authored the book Know Your Numbers, Outlive Your Diabetes. You will frequently find her speaking at diabetes, health, and social media events across the country.
We all hear many scary things about the consequences of diabetes, but having the illness does not mean that all this bodily damage is necessarily in your future. You can work to avoid it.
Remember that despite what the newspaper headlines say, diabetes itself is NOT a leading cause of blindness in the US or elsewhere; but poorly managed diabetes is a leading cause of this and other serious health problems.
First off, we’ve mentioned that you can drastically reduce your risk of all complications by keeping your blood glucose (BG), and blood pressure levels in check (a blood pressure value of 130/80 or lower is ideal). Also, watching what you eat, how often you are active, maintaining a healthy body weight, and taking medications properly will all work together to help you avoid complications.
If you have already developed some complications, you should know that there are many improved treatments available nowadays to lessen their severity and sometimes even halt their progression. This includes the following:
For heart disease
Treatments range from lifestyle changes to various medications to surgery. The drugs prescribed to people with heart disease are designed to help lower blood pressure or cholesterol, prevent or dissolve blood clots, relieve and prevent angina (severe chest pain due to obstruction or spasm of the heart's blood vessels), or improve the strength or rhythm of the heart's contractions.
If you do require surgery, available procedures include: coronary angiography, coronary artery bypass grafts, coronary angioplasty, coronary stenting, surgery for heart valve defects, electrophysiological treatments and implanting of cardiac defibrillator, and heart transplants. (Whew, that’s a medical mouthful!)
For eye disease
Many problems can be successfully treated and possibly even reversed using laser therapy. (Note: unless you get your eye care at a health center known for specializing in diabetes, consider getting a second opinion before deciding on the exact type of laser treatment you might need.)
For kidney disease
Either dialysis or kidney transplantation can be used to treat kidney failure. But before you might reach that stage, preventative treatments include aggressive control of blood pressure, improvement in BG control, and using a variety of oral medications.
For neuropathy/foot problems
Doctors usually treat painful diabetic neuropathy with a variety of oral medications. For example, duloxetine and pregabalin are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically for treating pain from diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
Also used to relieve pain are:
- Skin creams such as capsaicin cream and lidocaine patches (Lidoderm, Lidopain)
- Alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant, and evening primrose oil, which may improve nerve function
- A device called a bed cradle that keeps sheets and blankets from touching sensitive feet and legs
- Acupuncture, biofeedback, or physical therapy
For erectile dysfunction (ED)
Treatments include oral pills, injections, and other medications and devices that can help increase blood flow to the penis.