Diabetes affects over 1 in 10 Americans and has become one of the leading causes of death. It has been predicted that 1 in 3 may have the condition.
Quick Diabetes Facts:
- Every 30 seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes
- 2 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each year
- Over 34 million people in the US have diabetes
- Over 8 million Americans are currently undiagnosed
This chronic condition requires constant medical attention to help control blood glucose levels that left untreated can have severe risks & consequences.
Patients spend an average of $16,752 per year which makes up one-quarter of all health care spending in the US.
While the financial burden can be overwhelming for many diabetics, the cost of leaving the condition untreated can pose serious health risks or even even fatal.
Thankfully with proper medical care and lifestyle changes, people with diabetes can delay or prevent any complications.
In this article we will look at the health costs when diabetes goes untreated.
Type 1 diabetes typically happens during childhood. Scientists have discovered that this type of diabetes usually results from the pancreas, the insulin producing organ, being attacked by the immune system.
Type 2 diabetes is more gradual and common among adults over 45 year old. Due to lack of proper medical treatment and health management often results in the pancreas no longer producing insulin.
SYMPTOMS OF UNTREATED DIABETES
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 25% of the US population is undiagnosed with diabetes.
Diabetes results from the bodies inability to produce insulin which is necessary to manage glucose (sugar) levels. Without insulin, cells cannot absorb and convert glucose into energy.
When left untreated, diabetics are at risk of having dangerously high levels of glucose in the blood which can result in experiencing symptoms from mood changes to organ damage.
If blood sugar is too high (hyperglycemia) for days or weeks, you may experience the following signs:
- Fruity breath
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach Pain
- Repeat skin infections
- Slow wound healing
- Rapid weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
If hyperglycemia remains untreated for length of time it can result in diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a severe complication which where the body develops an inability to convert glucose for energy and instead uses fat and toxic acids called ketones. If left untreated, ketoacidosis can be fatal.
If any of the these symptoms do occur you should contact your doctor promptly.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN DIABETES GOES UNTREATED?
The most common body parts affected when diabetes goes untreated include: skin, nerves, feet, eyes and kidneys.
1) How does diabetes affects the eyes?
Those with diabetes are at an increased risk of eye complications. Most people know about diabetes leading to glaucoma or blindness. Most will experience minor eye disorders however left unchecked can become serious.
i) Glaucoma occurs when there is pressure build up in the eye. Restricted blood flow to the retina causes gradual loss of vision and eventual nerve damage. Treatment for glaucoma can range from drug use to surgery.
ii) Cataracts can lead to clouded vision which can impair eyesight. People with diabetes are likely to develop cataracts over time. While this symptom is usually found with older adults, it can also happen to younger patients.
Treatment can range from having to wear prescription glasses with glare control to requiring surgery to replace the lens of the eye with one that is artificial.
iii) Retinopathy is the general term for all diabetic disorders of the retina which comes in several forms. There has been huge strides in treating this condition such as focal laser therapy, injecting medication into the eye, photocoagulation and vitretomy to prevent blindness.
2) How does diabetes affects the feet?
You’ve probably noticed special socks at the local pharmacy that are meant for diabetics which aren’t elasticated so they don’t restrict circulation. Foot ulcers may develop from poor blood circulation and nerve damage (also called neuropathy). In extreme cases, not treating foot ulcers can result into more severe complications such as amputation.
If you are experiencing any tingling, pain or weakness in your feet then consult a doctor immediately. It’s important for those with diabetes to take proper care of their.
Tips to avoid diabetes related foot complications:
- Wash your feet everyday
- Dry thoroughly after washing even between toes
- Moisturize your feet regularly (avoid between toes)
- Keep toenails trim
- Check regularly for sores, cuts, corns, blisters or redness
- Don’t wear restrictive shoes
- Don’t soak your feet
- Avoid walking around in your bare feet
- Exercise can improve blood circulation in the legs and feet
- Keep off your feet
- Don’t smoke
Since people with diabetes are more likely to develop foot related problems such as neuropathy (you can’t feel your feet) or amputation. It’s important to take precautions and follow your doctors so that you can prevent these complications.
3) How does diabetes affect the skin?
Skin complications are usually the first noticeable sign of diabetes. Even though anyone can experience these issues, they are more prevalent with diabetics.
Poor blood circulation due to high glucose levels may result in skin-related issues such as dry skin and slow healing skin. These symptoms can worsen into fungal or bacterial infections experienced by 1 in 3 people with diabetes.
Common skin conditions might include:
- Allergic reactions
- Inflamed skin
- General skin conditions
These bacterial infections were once life threatening. Thanks to antibiotics, these complications can be easily treated and avoided if caught early.
To prevent these skin problems there are several things can be done:
- Keep skin clean and dry
- Avoid hot baths/showers
- Prevent dry skin/moisturize regularly
- Treat cuts and wounds
- Manage your diabetes
- Use mild shampoos
- Avoid feminine hygiene sprays
- See a dermatologist
4) How does diabetes affect the kidneys?
Since diabetes can result in high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, it can cause a narrowing of the arteries leading to high blood pressure. If not treated can result in affecting blood vessels, stroke, heart attack or heart & kidney failure.
Common factors that may lead to diabetic kidney disease includes blood pressure, genetics and blood glucose levels. Keeping your blood pressure and diabetes under control can lower your chances of developing this condition.
Having kidney disease is not as apparent as other diabetes complications. Symptoms of kidney disease include fluid buildup, loss of sleep, weakness, appetite loss and difficulty concentrating.
It’s important to have a regular check up with your doctor to monitor blood pressure, urine, blood and organs.
Preventing diabetic kidney disease may include:
- Taking certain medications such as ACE inhibitors
- Monitoring blood pressure regularly
- Managing blood glucose levels
- Making dietary changes
- Weight loss
If kidneys fail then this may result in dialysis or getting a kidney transplant.
5) How can diabetes affect oral health?
Your mouth can provide a lot of information about your health. Swollen, receding or bleeding gums, missing teeth and bad breath can signal gum disease.
Plaque is usually the root cause of gum disease which consists of bacteria. While this can be common with most people, it can be a concern for people with diabetes because due to the body’s inflammatory response to infection and bacteria.
With a heightened inflammatory response, this can result in a loss of supporting tissue and potentially teeth may have to be removed.
Certain oral conditions due to diabetes may include dry mouth from a combination of lack of saliva, food debris, bacteria, acid and sugar is present in the mouth.
Thankfully there are ways to prevent gum disease. Getting regular checkups with the dentist and keeping a strong oral cleaning routine can reduce the risks.
To maintain a healthy smile:
- Thoroughly brush your teeth twice daily
- Floss or use a waterpik daily
- See a dentist for a cleaning twice a year
A study from the BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care found that 1 in 5 people with gum disease didn’t know they had diabetes.
How to prevent diabetes complications
If you are experiencing any of the diabetes complications mentioned above you should consult a doctor immediately.
If you are over the age of 40, overweight, have a family history of diabetes and live a sedentary lifestyle you may be at risk.
Detecting diabetes symptoms early can greatly improve prevention, slow progression and reduce further complications.
If you already have diabetes, a treatment plan can help take control of blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Additional lifestyle changes should include:
- Not smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Screen blood and check blood sugar regularly
- Incorporate a healthy diet
- Manage your stress levels