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Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that affects how the body takes in and uses glucose or sugar. While the exact cause is unknown, genetic and environmental factors — such as obesity, high cholesterol and medical history — play a part in the development of diabetes.
Diabetes can be managed by lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. Conventional diabetes treatment may include medication or insulin injections.
Diabetes affects many systems in the human body and interacts with other diseases in complex and unique ways. In particular, the long-term complications of diabetes can include serious health risks such as heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, eye diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Here is what you should know about these risks…
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
Diabetes is a chronic disease that causes damage to many different organs, including the kidneys. The kidneys’ primary job is to filter waste and excess fluids out of the blood. Diabetes is the number one cause of chronic kidney disease.
Diabetes can cause high blood sugar levels over time, which may lead to diabetic kidney disease (DKD). DKD happens when your body does not properly filter waste products from your blood in order for them to be eliminated through urine.
This build-up of waste products in your blood can, over time, cause permanent damage to the kidneys and require dialysis or kidney transplantation. If you develop kidney disease as a result of diabetes, talk to your doctor about the right time to start dialysis. This treatment method will help to remove wastes from your blood when the kidneys are no longer able to do their job properly.
Heart Disease and Hypertension
Heart disease is another chronic condition that can be impacted by diabetes. Diabetes may cause atherosclerosis — the hardening and narrowing of arteries. For people with diabetes who already have atherosclerosis (plaques in their coronary arteries), it is recommended that they avoid certain foods such as baked goods made from refined carbohydrates like flour.
It can also lead to high cholesterol levels and hypertension (high blood pressure), which are both risk factors for heart disease. If you have diabetes, be sure to check your blood pressure often and monitor any changes in your heart rate or rhythm. Hypertension will need to be monitored closely and treated with medication if needed.
Diabetes is a leading cause of cardiovascular-related death. The combination of diabetes and chronic kidney disease also increases the likelihood of heart disease and stroke.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition in which a person’s brain becomes progressively more damaged and cognitive abilities decline. This is typically caused by a build-up of a protein called beta-amyloid in the brain. Diabetes is also linked to this condition because it damages blood vessels and can block your body’s ability to break down amyloid proteins, both of which lead to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.
Various other studies have found links between diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Diabetes-associated hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) may trigger chemical changes in the brain that lead to dementia symptoms as well, according to a study published in Diabetes Care journal in 2002. Diabetes also increases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by increasing inflammation in the brain, according to a study published in Diabetes Care journal.
If you have a history of Alzheimer’s or dementia in your family, or are currently diagnosed with diabetes, talk to your doctor about ways to limit your risk for developing this condition.
Eye Disease (Diabetic Retinopathy)
Diabetes puts you at higher risk for an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy. This condition is caused by the deterioration of the blood vessels in your retinas. Diabetes-related high blood sugar levels can cause these vessels to leak or swell, potentially leading to blurred vision, poor peripheral vision, or even a loss of vision.
The American Diabetes Association shares that diabetes increases your risk of cataracts by over 50 percent. This is due to increased pressure inside your eye from insufficient blood flow caused by diabetes. Diabetes may affect how quickly cataracts develop and worsen.
To reduce your risk for diabetes-related eye disease or related conditions, make sure to visit an optometrist every year for a comprehensive dilated eye exam and prescription glasses if needed.
If you have diabetes, know that there are ways to support your health and prevent other chronic conditions from developing. The best way you can advocate for your health is to incorporate a healthy diet and exercise into your regular routine, maintain a healthy weight and stay on top of your checkups.
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