I call diabetes a silent disease because it affects many parts of our human body quietly. Most people are unaware of the complications of diabetes until it’s too late. Some patients only know about their diabetes after having a heart attack or stroke. I focus on educating patients on how to reduce their risk of developing complications by adapting to a healthy lifestyle, maintaining good blood glucose levels, regular health checks plus what I know is the most important part is to have emotional stability.
There are 2 main types of complications. One is what we call microvascular complications as the small blood vessels and nerves (neuropathy) are affected. For example, diabetic retinopathy of the eye, diabetic nephropathy of the kidney, dry skin or slow healing wound. Diabetic neuropathy, such as overactive bladder syndrome, erectile dysfunction in males and vaginal dryness in females. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy, such as loss of sensation or pins and needles in the hands and feet. The other type is what we call macrovascular complications as the large blood vessels are affected. There is usually narrowing or blockage of the arteries. For example, stroke, heart diseases, poor circulation (peripheral vascular disease) and might lead to amputation if left untreated.
Diabetes can also worsen dental problems, such as periodontitis and blood pressure effects, such as hypertension and postural hypotension.
However, I think the most important complications are often overlooked, worsening of mental health. I have always encouraged patients to look after their mental health. Unfortunately mental health usually takes the back seat. This is especially evident during the lockdown with COVID-19. So many patients have lost their good blood glucose levels with emotional eating and food craving when they are not working outside their homes. We’ll discuss emotional eating and food craving in another post.
Also there is a lot of social stigma with mental health so most people rather ignore it than to treat it as they don’t want others to judge them . Many patients have depression or anxiety with diabetes and I can imagine why. It’s very difficult to change our eating habits if we have already been doing it for years. It’s even worse when our family members don’t support us in making the change. It’s just not practical to cook different food for different people inside a family. So I do encourage all my patients to BE KIND to themselves and seek advice and support when needed. I advise them to discuss any mental health issues with their treating team. There is a lot of support available, we just need to ask and we should receive the support. Keep going and don’t give up because we are all important. That’s why we are all here on earth!