Swallowing pills, checking your blood sugar all the time, or sticking yourself with needles full of insulin probably doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time. But taking steps tois your best shot at preventing a slew of frightening complications.
If you don’t take care of yourself, “diabetes complications typically start within 5 years; within 10 to 15 years, the majority of patients will progress to have multiple health issues,” says Betul Hatipoglu, MD, an endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic.
Fortunately,, exercising, and taking your medication may not only stop complications from progressing, but can also reverse them, she says.
Need motivation to stick to your treatment plan? Here’s what can happen when you slack off.
Your cholesterol and blood pressure rise.
With type 1 diabetes, your body stops producing insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar;, your body can’t properly use the insulin you do produce. In turn, your HDL (or “good”) cholesterol lowers, and your levels of harmful blood fats called triglycerides rise. Insulin resistance also contributes to hardened, narrow arteries, which in turn increases your blood pressure. As a result, about 70% of people with either type of diabetes also have hypertension—a risk factor for stroke, heart disease, and trouble with thinking and memory. (Add these 13 power foods to your diet to help .)
Failing to control high blood pressure and high cholesterol, eitheror by adding medications, accelerates the rate at which all your other complications progress, says Robert Gabbay, MD, PhD, chief medical officer at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
More than 4 millionhave some degree of retinopathy, or damage to the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. This happens because high blood glucose levels harm the eye’s delicate blood vessels, a process that can begin as early as 7 years before diagnosis.
The early stages have no symptoms, but the longer you let things go, the darker the picture becomes. One study that looked at people with type 2 diabetes found that when HbA1c levels (a measure of blood glucose over time) rose by one percentage point, the risk of eye problems developing or worsening increased by about one-third. In 20 years, about 80% of people with diabetes have retinopathy, and about 10,000 go blind each year, Hatipoglu says. (.)
Over time, high blood glucose thickens and scars the nephrons, tiny structures within the kidneys that filter your blood. About 7% of the time, you’ll already have protein leaking into your urine—an early—by the time you receive a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. (Find out .)
About half of those who don’t take steps to control their diabetes will sustain kidney damage within 10 years, and 40% of those will progress to kidney failure, Hatipoglu says—a condition requiring either dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Your nerves fray.
About 7.5% of people already have neuropathy, or nerve damage caused by high blood glucose, when they’re diagnosed with diabetes. Eventually, about half of people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes will develop it.
At first, you might have no symptoms or feel a mild tingling or numbness in your hands or feet, Gabbay says. But eventually,, weakness, and digestive troubles as it strikes the nerves that control your gastrointestinal tract.
You may lose a foot.
As damage to the long nerves between your brain and lower limbs worsens, your muscle tone slackens and the shape of, causing bunions, flat feet, and other deformities. One wrong step or pebble in your shoe can cause a small ulcer; numbness means you may not notice it, and poor circulation from damaged blood vessels slows healing.
The end result: a rampant infection that spreads to the bone, Gabbay says. People with diabetes undergo about 73,000 lower-limb amputations per year, and about 60% of amputations overall are in people with diabetes.
You’re prone to a major cardiac event.
In addition to raising your blood pressure and cholesterol, high blood glucose can directly damage your veins, arteries, and heart muscle. Anyone with diabetes has nearly, and their risk of stroke quadruples. “Heart attack is the No. 1 killer in diabetics,” Hatipoglu says. And aside from frequently being fatal, strokes cause paralysis and other severe disabilities. (Make sure you know these .)
Your life shortens.
All of these health problems can eventually add up to the ultimate complication: an earlier death. A recent study in JAMA suggests women with type 1 diabetes can expect to live 13 fewer years than people without the disease. Diabetes officially ranks as the seventh leading cause of death—but since death certificates sometimes list complications, rather than the disease itself, the actual number may be much higher.