Organs to be affected most through diabetes
Diabetes, if untreated, can affect both the nervous and circulatory systems in the long run. As these two systems are involved in most body functions, diabetes leads many health complications. The following areas are more likely to be affected:
- Cataracts (a cloud on the lens) may form.
- A change in the fluid pressure and damage to optic nerve, Glaucoma, can result.
While cataract and glaucoma can occur even without diabetes, Diabetic Retinopathy is a complication more specific to diabetes. Any of the following problems can be caused by diabetic retinopathy:
- The small capillaries in the retina get clogged. New but weak capillaries grow in the improper place and impair vision. Read more in Neovascularisation. These could also form scar tissue and cause the retina to be pulled back from its normal position causing retinal detachment.
- In some cases the capillaries begin to leak and the deposits from the ooze cause the retina to swell . Read more in Non proliferative retinopathy.
If diabetes is left untreated these complications may lead to a medium or severe vision loss.
Apart from affecting small blood vessels, untreated diabetes also leads to the thickening of blood vessels that supply blood to the vital organs of the body. Diabetics are also more prone to high blood pressure and cholesterol. This is a dangerous combination and is a threat to the functioning of the heart.
As we age, in most of us arteries do begin to thicken. But in diabetics, this problem is more common and at an earlier age.
For all these reasons, diabetics are twice as vulnerable to heart problems as people without diabetes. Read more in Cardiac Care.
Nearly a third of kidney failure patients are diabetics. When the blood sugar is high the excess sugar flows out through the urine. But Glucose cannot flow out by itself. It flows out with urine. Therefore diabetics tend to pass urine frequently.
Continued excessive sugar levels in the blood affect the glomeruli, or the blood filtering units of the kidneys. In a diabetic the flow of blood through the kidneys increases and the glomeruli have to work harder. This is called hyperfiltration. The kidneys get larger in size than normal.
If the diabetic is also hypertensive, the stress is greater on the kidneys. The stress begins to show, in those small amounts of protein that leak into the urine. The body begins to lose valuable nutrition.
If blood sugar is in poor control the kidneys become less and less efficient.
The problem progresses through five stages and the fifth stage is called End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). At this point symptoms of kidney failure occur. The patient needs to undergo dialysis or transplantation.
Read more in Diabetic Nephropathy.
There seems to be a connection between nerve damage and high blood glucose levels. Medical researchers are still trying to find out how exactly this works. The nerves that are damaged are the peripheral nerves or the nerves outside the brain and the spinal chord.
Nerve damage fall under three broad categories:
- When motor nerves are affected muscular weakness results.
- When sensory nerves are affected there is a loss of feeling. In problems in the feet, quite common in diabetics, this is often the cause.
- When autonomous nerves are affected, body functions that are not in our conscious control are affected. Diabetics in whom this happens experience digestive problems without any apparent cause. In some the reproductive system or the bladder may be affected.
A whole group of nerve diseases are possible. For example, a single affected nerve can cause one side of the body to be affected.
When the nerves are damaged or when a damaged nerve is healing the diabetic can feel tingling or prickly sensations or numbness.
The feet become vulnerable in diabetics because of any or a combination of the following:
- The poor functioning of the immune system may lead to slow healing of cuts and bruises.
- The nervous system may have weakened and so the ability to feel sensations of pain is less.
- The circulatory system may not be not efficient as the blood vessels have narrowed owing to plaque or waste deposits along their inner walls.
The problem starts as a small, superficial cut on the sole or on the toe of the foot. Because of the numbness a diabetic does not realise immediately that he is hurt.
The wound takes a long time to heal. Infection sets in and the wound begins to fester. If diabetes is unchecked amputation of the affected area may become necessary.
Proper Foot Care is essential for diabetics.
The reproductive system
- The nerves transmitting signals from the brain to the genitals may be affected by diabetes.
- The thickening of blood vessels and the poor flow of blood to the penis may prevent a full erection.
Untreated blood sugar levels could lead to erectile dysfunction in men and poor vaginal lubrication in women. These cause problems with reproduction.
In these cases men worry about the physiological nature of the problem. Women show a disinterest in sexual activity.