How to Prevent the Long-Term Complications of Diabetes

Diabetes affects 7 out of every 100 Americans, and many are unaware that they have this disease. Diabetes is more than just a short-term problem where blood sugars climb too high; diabetes can lead to serious complications that shorten lifespan. The most common complications are heart disease, blood vessel disease, kidney disease, diabetic retinopathy and diabetic nerve damage. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the risk of developing these long-term complications of diabetes – so you can live a longer and healthier life with diabetes.

Long-Term Complications of Diabetes: Factors You Can’t Control

Unfortunately, there are factors you can’t control when it comes to warding off diabetic complications. If you’ve had diabetes for a long time or were diagnosed at a young age, you’re more at risk for developing complications. Genetics play a role too. If you have a family history of heart disease and you have diabetes, your risk of heart-related complications will be higher. If you’ve had diabetes for many years, and your sugars have not been well-controlled, this also increases the risk of diabetes complications.

Preventing Diabetic Complications: Factors You Can Control

The good news is you can lower your risk of developing many of the long-term complications of diabetes with lifestyle changes. The most important step you can take is to keep your blood sugars under good control with diet, exercise – and medications when necessary. Research clearly shows that controlling blood sugars reduces the risk of the long-term complications of diabetes. Check your blood sugars regularly and your hemoglobin A1C level at least every six months. If you blood sugars are unstable, your doctor may advise checking your A1C level every three months instead.

The second factor you can control to reduce the risk of diabetes complications is your blood pressure. High blood pressure damages blood vessels that carry blood and oxygen to the brain, kidney, eyes and heart. When combined with diabetes, the damage is magnified.

You may be able to lower your blood pressure naturally by losing weight, eating more potassium-rich fruits and vegetables and getting daily aerobic exercise, but if your blood pressure is above 130/80 mmHg after making lifestyle changes, it’s important to get treatment.

If you have elevated lipid levels, this will work against you with diabetes. Having a high LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and low HDL (the good kind) damages blood vessels, especially if you have diabetes. You may be able to alter your lipids with diet and exercise, but if they don’t improve, talk to your doctor about medications. Bad lipid levels and diabetes are a bad combination.

The final factor that increases the risk of long-term complications of diabetes is smoking. Smoking accelerates the damage that diabetes does to blood vessels – and increases the risk of other health problems such as lung disease and lung cancer as well. If you’re a smoker and have diabetes, make kicking the habit a top priority – right along with controlling your blood sugars and blood pressure.

Long-Term Complications of Diabetes: The Bottom Line?

Diabetes is a disease that affects virtually every organ in your body. Make the lifestyle changes necessary to reduce the impact diabetes has. Don’t let it shorten your lifespan.

References: “Diabetic Microvascular Complications: Can Patients at Risk Be Identified?”

Diabetes Essentials. Fourth Edition. 2009.


Leave a Comment