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Diabetes is a big problem in the U.S., affecting nearly 30 million people and another 8 million who are undiagnosed. There are different types of diabetes, but because they all affect blood sugar, nearly every part of the body can be affected by the disease. This includes organs such as the kidneys and pancreas, eyes, teeth, circulatory system, and lower extremities, and if left unchecked, diabetes can wreak havoc and cause loss of limb, vision, or even life.
It’s extremely important for those diagnosed with diabetes to carefully monitor their diet, exercise regimen, and blood sugar. For those living with Type 1, insulin medication is necessary for survival and must also be monitored.
While most cases of diabetes begin with the pancreas--specifically, its ability to produce insulin to break down glucose from the bloodstream and turn it into energy, as well as the body’s ability to use that insulin--some start as a result of hormones. For instance, pregnant women are susceptible to gestational diabetes, which has many of the same symptoms as other types of the disease but usually goes away after she has the baby. With gestational diabetes, the person affected is prone to frequent urinary tract and yeast infections and must monitor her diet carefully during the pregnancy. Women suffering with gestational diabetes are also at risk for having larger-than-normal babies and sometimes have to undergo a C-section.
Diabetes affects the blood vessels, which can cause problems with the heart, extremities, and eyes. Fatty buildup in the vessels lead to thinned blood flow and can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, glaucoma, cataracts, and even loss of vision. Because blood flow is restricted to the legs and feet, people with diabetes often have trouble feeling the bottoms of their feet, which sometimes leads to unchecked injuries and infection.
Teeth and gums can also be affected by diabetes, which can cause dry mouth, cavities, and gum disease due to a lack of saliva production. For this reason, it’s especially important for sufferers to make routine visits to the dentist and practice good oral hygiene.
Diabetes can be harmful to kidneys, as well, damaging their ability to filter waste from the blood. Many people living with diabetes find they suffer from kidney infections or UTIs, so it’s imperative to be under a doctor’s care once diabetes has been diagnosed. Left unchecked, these infections can lead to problems with the heart, kidney failure, and death.
Diabetes can also affect digestion, as nerve damage can lead to nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.
Symptoms of diabetes can include excessive thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision, sweet-smelling breath, fatigue, vision problems, and tingling or loss of feeling in the hands and feet. If caught early, some forms of diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise, but others require medication that may have to be taken every day for a lifetime. Being under a doctor’s care is the safest way to keep diabetes in check and stay as healthy as possible, as well as avoiding drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes.
Kim Thomas is on a mission to advocate for those suffering from chronic disease. She was inspired to create US Health Corps after her uncle was diagnosed with heart disease as a result of his lifelong struggle with obesity. When she is not writing about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, she can be found crafting, sewing and hiking with her husband and two sons.