Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism, in which the body is unable to regulate its blood glucose levels appropriately. Glucose, a simple sugar, comes from the carbohydrates you eat. Your body synthesizes and stores glucose, and then uses it as a major source of energy. For glucose to get into cells, insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, must be present. In people with diabetes, the pancreas either produces little or no insulin, or the body cells do not respond to the insulin that it produces. As a result, glucose can't get into the cells of the body, and glucose levels in the blood become elevated. The high blood sugar levels eventually damage many organs of the body.
Certain factors can increase the risk of developing diabetes. People who have close family members with diabetes and people who are overweight have a greater chance of developing diabetes. Also, the risk of diabetes is increased in some ethnic groups, including people who are African-American, Latino American or Native American. Other factors that may increase the risk of diabetes include high blood pressure and hyperlipidemia (elevated cholesterol).
Symptoms of high blood sugar include increased thirst and urination, blurred vision, fatigue and weight loss. In some individuals the elevated blood sugar may lead to recurrent infections such as urinary tract infection, vaginal yeast infection, or infections of the skin. However, many individuals with diabetes may not have symptoms for many years. For that reason, it is recommended that all adults age 45 and above should be tested for diabetes every three years.
Individuals with diabetes are at risk for complications that may affect the eyes, kidneys, nerves and circulatory system. Managing diabetes requires each patient to establish goals of therapy that include target blood sugar range, weight management and dietary and lifestyle changes. Comprehensive treatment of diabetes requires a team approach involving the patient and healthcare providers, who may include the primary care physician, an endocrinologist, the diabetes educator, nutritionist, ophthalmologist and podiatrist.
Diabetic Foot Care
A common and costly complication of diabetes, foot ulcers can easily be prevented through self-examination and proper foot care. When left untreated, however, foot ulcers can lead to infection, gangrene and lower limb amputation. Most often the result is minor foot trauma and wound-healing failure. Diabetes-related amputation accounts for 51% of all amputations in the United States. Because of poor circulation and nerve damage to the feet, people with diabetes are more likely to develop infections, even from a minor foot injury. For this reason, people with diabetes should treat their feet with special care. By following some simple foot care tips, people with diabetes can dramatically reduce their risk of amputation and lead healthy, active lives.
Patients with diabetes should follow these steps to prevent foot ulcers:
- Check your feet for cuts, sores, blisters, or areas of irritation. If you have any concerns, see your podiatrist or internist.
- Wash and dry your feet, particularly between your toes.
- Protect your feet from extreme hot and cold temperatures.
- Avoid walking barefoot.
When your toenails need trimming:
- Trim your nails straight across, and only if you can see well.
- If you cannot see well or if your toenails are thick or yellowed, have a podiatrist trim them.
- Do not cut into the corners of your toes.
- Do not cut corns or calluses.
When you visit your doctor, ask him/her to:
- Look at your bare feet at each visit. As a reminder, remove your shoes and socks.
- Check your feet for sense of feeling and your pulse at least once a year.
- Show you how to take care of your feet.
Diabetic Eye Disease
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye problems that people with diabetes may face as a complication of the disease. All can cause severe vision loss or even blindness.
The most common form of diabetic eye disease is diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in adults, and nearly half of people with diabetes will develop some degree of this disease during their lifetime. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina that can lead to blindness.
If you have diabetes, you should have your eyes examined at least once a year. Your eyes should be dilated during the exam so that your ophthalmologist can see more clearly the insides of the eye to detect signs of the disease.
Diabetic eye disease can be treated. Your ophthalmologist may suggest laser eye surgery, which has been proven to reduce the risk of severe vision loss.
For more information on ophthalmologists, please call 800-879-1020.
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