Understanding the Hidden Dangers of Diabetes

Many Complications of Diabetes Aren't Well Known

Doctor testing patient blood sugar for diabetes in examination room. Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak/ GettyImages

Diabetes is a chronic disease that can cause many serious complications. If left unchecked, high blood sugar levels can wreak havoc on your body. The good news is that managing diabetes can help keep these and other potential complications and comorbidities of diabetes at bay. 

Some of the more well-known complications are nerve damage ( neuropathy), characterized by numbness and tingling in your feet or hands, kidney failure ( nephropathy) and vision problems ( retinopathy) which can lead to blindness.

But there are other, more hidden dangers of diabetes. 

Skin Complications

Having diabetes can make you more susceptible to disease, including diseases of the skin. In fact, skin disorders are sometimes one of the first noticeable signs of diabetes.

You might be more at risk for fungal infections, bacterial infections, and itchy skin. Other disorders of the skin are more exclusive to diabetes. They include diabetic blisters, atherosclerosis, digital sclerosis, and eruptive xanthomatosis. 

Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

If you have diabetes, your risk of developing heart disease -- coronary artery disease (CAD) in particular -- is twice as that of the rest of the population. High blood pressure and increased risk of stroke are also complications of diabetes. There are several reasons for this increased cardiac risk:

  • Elevated blood sugar levels have been strongly correlated with endothelial dysfunction, a condition in which the endothelial lining (inner lining) of the blood vessels is not functioning normally. Endothelial dysfunction plays a major role in the development of atherosclerosis.
    • High blood sugar levels also make the blood platelets (the clotting elements in the blood) "sticker," and increase the coagulation potential of the blood plasma. These effects make diabetics more prone to abnormal blood clotting. Clot formation (or thrombosis) within the coronary arteries plays a major role in acute coronary syndrome (ACS).

      Diabetes Increases Infection Risk

      Diabetes can also put you at risk for infections. Foot infections, yeast infections, urinary tract infections and surgical site infections can present serious complications. One of the reasons for the increase in infection risk is a weakened immune system. Also, diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), can make you less likely to feel foot injuries, making it extra important for you to care for your feet and check them for damage.

      Diabetes and Depression

      Depression often seems to accompany diabetes.

      While studies have found that having diabetes can make people more susceptible to depression, others show that depression can lead to type 2 diabetes. Whichever comes first, they do appear to go hand in hand.

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