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Learn the Long and Short Term Complications of Diabetes

Updated on June 27, 2017

In the United States alone, over 25 million people have diabetes. If you combine that number with those that are "pre-diabetic", you get 104 million people, just shy of a third of the country. When looking at the sheer size of our diabetic problem in the U.S., one can easily understand why complications of this disease makes such an impact on our medical system today.

Whether you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or are related to someone who is, the long term complications of diabetes should alarm you enough to do what you can to be more healthy. Diabetes patients have a 2 to 4 times higher risk of both heart disease and stroke. That statistic alone is sobering.

Acute Complications Of Diabetes Mellitus

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The main acute (short term) complication that faces any diabetic is the immediate effect of a spike or dramatic lowering of their blood sugar. As the main effect of the disease is the loss of the body's control mechanisms to keep blood glucose in a normal range, dealing with fluctuations in blood glucose is a daily battle for any diabetic. Of course, those with Insulin Dependent Diabetes, or Diabetes Type I, are usually at more risk for these issues, due to their need for insulin injections to regulate their blood glucose.

These spikes can become manifest when an insulin or prescription dependant diabetic forgets to take their respective medicine to keep their blood sugar down, or when they take their medicine and forget to eat, causing a dramatic lowering of their blood glucose. Both of these conditions can be life threatening, however, low blood sugar tends to develop more rapidly.

Signs and symptoms of low blood glucose can include acting similar to a drunk person, irregular breathing, weakness, tiredness, combativeness, or unresponsiveness. These people have usually either forgotten to eat or have taken too much of their insulin. In either case, the sugar in the bloodstream is exhausted, and the cells have to go without. The most severe acute complication of low blood sugar can be brain damage or even death. However, even though many patients that receive emergency care for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) do well, the recurring nature of this disease and a lack of self care can lead to long term brain damage, amputations, etc.

A person with blood sugar that is too high can have symptoms such as irregular breathing, double or blurred vision, fruity breath or odor, or unresponsiveness. Some other symptoms can include chest pain and headache, although diabetic pain is perceived differently in many patients.

Long Term Complications Of Diabetes

Due to continual peaks and lows in blood glucose, diabetics, whether type I diabetics or type II diabetics, face higher probability of many different diseases and organ failures later in life. The top two potential long term complications of diabetes are Heart Disease and Stroke. As stated above, these two diseases are 2 to 4 times more prevalent in those who are diabetic.

Heart Disease is especially risky for diabetic patients, as they perceive pain differently than other heart patients. Because of this difference, they may have little to no classic pain symptoms of a heart attack or Acute Coronary Syndromes. Some diabetics experiencing heart attack can simply have shortness of breath, diaphoresis (profuse sweating), and perhaps nausea.

Another leading long term complication of diabetes is Kidney Disease. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. One of the reasons for this, and the above two complications, is that 2/3 of all adults with diabetes either have high blood pressure or are treated for high blood pressure. This issue, over time, along with other factors, lead the diabetes patient down a long road that often ends battling one of these three diseases.

Along with these complications, the diabetic who does not stay vigilant about being healthy is at high risk of amputation, blindness, nervous system disease, and more.

Treatment For Diabetes

The ultimate treatment of diabetes is one of the most difficult treatment processes in medicine, the reason being that it has to occur on a daily basis and is never simple and often requires sacrifice from the patient. The diabetic that is willing to sacrifice their unhealthy diet, be vigilant with blood glucose tests, and continually follow the advice of their primary care physician can steer clear of the long term diabetes complications and will rarely have difficulty with the short term complications.

The non-compliant diabetic is more than likely, however, to have a multitude of problems associated with their diabetes. More often than not, these people are either ignorant of the factors that contribute to their situation or are unwilling to make the sacrifices needed to stay healthy. The good thing is that through more diabetes information and education some diabetics can change course and become healthy, staying away from some of these horrible disease processes. The sad fact, though, is that many people destine themselves to constantly deteriorating health because they are unwilling to allow their disease to change any decisions they would normally make.

Short term treatment for a diabetic patient depends mostly on whether their blood glucose level is too high or too low. Often, the patient with low blood glucose has taken their insulin and forgotten to eat an appropriate meal, or does not understand what an appropriate meal is. These patients need sugar. If the person is acting strange, or is even unconscious, emergency personnel should be called via 911. If they are just acting tired you may check their sugar and if it is slightly low, usually somewhere between 50 and 80 depending on the person, an easy fix can be fruit juice or candy if they are awake enough to eat. Even though their glucose comes up quickly from the fruit juice, an appropriate meal with proteins, fats and carbs should follow.

If the patient's glucose is too high, either they need to take their medicine, whether insulin or pill form, or consult a physician to have their medicine changed if they have already taken their prescription. If the person is acting strange, having blurred or double vision, or having other symptoms, please call 911.


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