This post was added to my blog, Diabetes Odyssey, this morning. You can read the full post, photos and all, here.
Recently I have been asked exactly how many complications I suffer related to my diabetes. I kind of have to laugh because to me that question might imply that I have some health issues not related to my diabetes. When you are diabetic every health issue you have is related to your diabetes. Even if it isn’t, it is. Somehow diabetes is always to blame.
But I started this post by immediately going off track. Let’s try again.
What complications of diabetes do I have?
First let me let you know that if you are asking this question then I now know you don’t read my blog regularly. I talk about my complications a lot, but I can understand if it’s difficult to keep them straight. So let me straighten them out for you because I’m nice like that.
First let me lay out some helpful information:
I have been type 1 diabetic for going on 28 years (25 of them uncontrolled).
I am currently 36 years old.
Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy - This is a condition of the eye. It is caused usually from chronically high blood sugar over an extended period of time. Basically the delicate veins in the eyes become damaged from high glucose levels and begin to sprout new tiny veins that invade the eye and cause problems. Over time you begin to have blurry vision, blotchy vision, you experience flashes of light, the veins of the eye hemorrhage and you may see the blood as globs or blind spots in your vision. Scar tissue forms that cause a lot of problems, and you may end up with a detached retina. Retinopathy requires treatment, first you will be told repeatedly to get and keep your blood sugar under control, then you will undergo laser treatments (I’ve had four) which may or may not be painful (this depends on the patient), you may require more invasive surgeries (I’ve had four). Retinopathy is a progressive disease that, like diabetes, can be slowed down, but not cured.
Peripheral Neuropathy - This is a condition of the nerves. Again, chronically high blood sugar over an extended period of time does a hell of a lot of damage to the entire body, even your nerves. If you don’t already get it, nerves are how we feel, so when nerves are damaged they let you know by pain. Lots of pain you can not ignore. This is a life galling condition. It usually begins slowly and in the feet and/or hands. You experience pain like tingling, burning, aching, pins and needles, stabbing. Numbness is the absence of feeling, right? Wrong, you “feel” numbness and it is unsettling and painful in it’s own way. Over time these symptoms spread inward and you have them everywhere. You begin to slow down, tire easily, become inactive because it just hurts too much to do activities, depression sets in…Pain is truly an evil ■■■■■. There is no cure for neuropathy, but you can slow it down and ease it through blood sugar control, diet, and herbal pain management. There are also prescription medications that may help ease some of the pain.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - This is a condition women get, obviously. This condition is not strictly for diabetics, any woman can get it. It is however strongly linked to diabetes, diabetics are at very high risk of developing PCOS, and non-diabetic women who have PCOS are at very high risk of developing diabetes (type 2). PCOS is an imbalance of hormones. It is usually implicated by symptoms such as excessive hair growth where only men tend to grow hair (knuckles, back, face, chest), or hair loss on the head, easy weight gain and inability to lose it, insulin resistance, erratic or loss of periods, infertility, and in many cases cysts are found on the ovaries. Blood tests, examination, and list of symptoms can be used to diagnose the condition, but it can be difficult to diagnose. There is no cure. Treatment includes diet, exercise, and medications.
Gastroparesis - This is another condition of nerves. The nerves of the stomach are damaged (usually from high blood sugar) and this makes it difficult for the stomach to do it’s job properly. Basically, the stomach digests too slowly and/or doesn’t empty on time. Symptoms include heartburn, nausea, vomiting, erratic blood sugar, fullness even when you haven’t eaten much, bloating, malnutrition, weight-loss. There is no cure. Treatment includes diet changes, exercises, and, of course, blood sugar control. Surgery may be required in extreme cases.
Coronary Artery Disease - I also lump in here bad cholesterol and high blood pressure. This is a condition of the heart, over time the vessels of the heart become clogged and can not pump blood well enough or at all. In some cases the vessel dies and new smaller vessels sprout to try to bypass the bad artery; this is called a “ghost artery”. I had one of those. I had three bad arteries in my heart, two were blocked and one was “dead”. I underwent triple bypass surgery which is where they crack open your chest and slice open your inner thigh and then take veins from your thigh to make new arteries for your heart. You are left with a (hopefully) good heart but huge scars to forever remind you of your poor life choices. Symptoms of heart trouble are chest and/or left arm pain, burning, and/or heaviness; lightheaded, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath. This is a life-threatening condition and symptoms should not be ignored. There are a lot of treatments for heart disease depending on the severity. Surgery is always a last resort.
Frozen Shoulder - In all honesty I am not sure if my shoulder problem was caused from diabetes or if it was caused from my heart surgery. I guess in either case it was caused from my diabetes. As a complication of diabetes, frozen shoulder is usually caused by inflammation in the joints. Chronically high blood sugar causes widespread inflammation throughout the body and can lead to painful, stiff, “frozen” joints. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, loss of range of motion, weakness. This condition usually goes through three stages; pained, frozen, and thawing. The condition can usually last about two years! Treatment includes exercises, stretching, diet, blood sugar control, injections, and sometimes surgery.
Inability to heal/fight infection - This complication of diabetes is not reserved for just uncontrolled diabetics. Many diabetics have a slightly slowed healing process. It’s is however much worse for uncontrolled diabetics. In the past I never noticed much of a problem with my body’s ability to heal and definitely no problems in fighting infection. But then the past couple of years came around and my body really took a dive and now I seem to be unable to heal normally at all and am extremely prone to infections, especially staph, and have to take super doses of antibiotics for twice as long as the norm. Frightening.
I have so far been able to improve many of these complications and at the very least keep them from getting worse. It is a lot of work and it never ends or allows for a break. One slip and it all comes crashing down.
All I can do is keep trying.
I really do hope this is inspiration to other diabetics to really work hard at taking care of yourself. Your doctor’s warnings are no lie. And let me tell you it is much easier to take care of yourself and stay that way while you’re healthy than it is to try to get healthy when you are riddled with complications.