The many complications of diabetes are something most of us know about. Often this information is given to you at a time where you are not ready to hear it, or at a time that causes high anxiety. The way the media talks about it can highlight the “fear factor” that is all around us when it comes to diabetes. Some of the most common complications of diabetes, that being the mental health impact, burnout, distress and depression, are often not talked about in these kinds of discussions, but it is time they were. The funny thing is, often it is worry about all the other complications that leads to these problems.
One way of reducing your worry about diabetes complications is to make sure you are looking after yourself and having all the relevant health checks that can help keep you in tip top shape. This helps you to feel in control and also, if a complication is picked up early enough, there is a good chance you and your team can rectify, manage or prevent it from worsening.
Over time persistent high blood glucose levels (BGLs) can damage the body’s organs. It is also important to maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels which contribute to heart and kidney health among other things. This is what we mean by diabetes related complications. While these complications are serious and can be life threatening, if you live a healthy life and do as well as you can with your blood glucose management you can greatly reduce your risk of complications. We also have excellent screenings and management tools today that mean less risk of complications when you live well.
It is very important to know what your key management goals are. Keeping track of your goals and the recommended health checks for people with diabetes helps you to stay in control of this. Diabetes Australia, The Diabetes Society and the Australian Diabetes Educators Association recommend that people with diabetes work closely with their healthcare team to achieve the recommended management goals.
Diabetes Australia has a series of fact sheets about complications risks, screening checks and management goals here
Studies have shown that even small improvements in diabetes control can make a difference to the risk of long-term complications.
To reduce the risk of complications, it’s important to:
- Follow the management plan advised by your diabetes team and work with them to make sure it is something you can keep going with in the long term.
- Communicate with them and tell them your concerns or worries so you can problem solve together.
- Aim for BGLs mostly within the range recommended for you.This is generally 4-6 mmol fasting and under 8 mml 2 hours after meals, but may vary depending on your age, type of diabetes, activity levels, general health etc
- Be as active as you can as often as you can. Talk with your GP, an exercise physiologist or even a personal trainer about how to build this into your life.
- Remember the differences between types of diabetes and between individuals – what happened to someone else is not going to be your experience. Lots of people compare the complications experiences of someone they knew from many years ago with their own, but management has changed so much that we are much better at preventing and managing complications.
- Learn as much as you can about the amazing range of healthy and delicious foods available to you and how you can have a wonderful relationship with food.
- Take care of your mental health. Reduce stress, take time out and have some things you are passionate about in your life.
- Go and see your doctor for complications screening as scheduled. When you start and continue to have complications screening depends on your age, type of diabetes and how long you have had diabetes. Your doctor can advise you when complications screening should start and how often to monitor.
- In general checks will include a urine check for kidney health, blood tests for a range of things, sensation and pressure checks for your feet, specialist checks at an opthalmologist for eye health, regular monitoring of your blood pressure and heart health.
- Don’t smoke. Just don’t do it. If you do smoke quit and seek help to do so if you can not manage on your own.
- Seek support from other people with diabetes, your family and friends to make sure you do not feel alone with diabetes.
- Get help and counselling if you are struggling in any way. Nobody should do diabetes alone.
And remember that diabetes is not a leading cause of blindness, kidney disease, stroke and limb amputation- it is unmanaged diabetes that is. Well managed diabetes is the leading cause of nothing! (with thanks to Bill Polonsky for this quote)