The risks of not managing your diabetes
Living with diabetes can be difficult, but managing it effectively will help reduce the likelihood of serious complications.
If you’re living with type 2 diabetes, your best protection against serious complications is to enjoy a healthy diet, regular exercise, drink in moderation, quit smoking and have regular medical check-ups.
Bupa Australia’s National Medical Director Dr Tim Ross says, ‘’if left unchecked, high blood sugar levels can damage the body’s blood vessels, nerves and organs.
“Unfortunately, the results of having high glucose levels circulating in your blood for long periods of time includes damage to almost any organ you can think of – most significantly your kidneys, heart and eyes,” he says. “The effects are significant and quite serious.”
The most common complications of diabetes are damage to the big blood vessels, which can lead to heart attack and stroke, and damage to the small blood vessels, which causes problems in the eyes, kidneys, feet and nerves. The digestive system, skin and immune system can also be affected by diabetes.
One of the most common side effects of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when diseased small blood vessels of the eye cause areas of the retina to die, resulting in loss of vision. Blockage of the blood vessels feeding the legs is a common cause of foot problems, including pain in one or both legs, loss of hair growth, cold feet and slow-healing skin wounds, which in severe cases of diabetes can lead to gangrene that may lead to amputation of fingers, toes, feet, or limbs.
Managing your risk
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and healthy blood glucose levels are the key to reducing the risk of complications for people living with diabetes. It’s important to exercise regularly and have an active lifestyle, eat well, lose excess weight, and cut back on or quit alcohol and smoking.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or swimming, every day. A healthy diet is suitable, but people with diabetes do have specific needs – a dietitian or credentialed diabetes educator can assist with the development of a diabetes diet plan.
“It’s good advice for everyone to stay away from processed fats and sugars and enjoy a balanced diet of fruit and plenty of vegetables and whatever lean protein you prefer,” says Dr Ross. “It’s about having a well-rounded, balanced diet with a variety of foods. Be realistic with the naughty stuff and really make sure you have enough of the healthy stuff.”
Regular medical check-ups also help to prevent or lower the risks of complications associated with diabetes. Many doctors will complete an annual cycle of care through Medicare, which involves a set of check-ups that monitor things such as eye health, foot health, blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI (body mass index).
Making a difference
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Managing your diabetes can really make a difference to your long-term health.
“If you didn’t do regular exercise, if you didn’t change your diet, if you didn’t have regular examinations and take your medication as prescribed – you could have major issues within five years,” Dr Ross says.
“Conversely, I have patients who are managing their diabetes and they’ve got optimal readings on their blood tests, purely through lifestyle changes.”
Even though living with diabetes isn’t always easy, the good news is that a healthy lifestyle really can make a difference to your health and help reduce your risk of complications.