Diabetes affects millions of people in the U.S. It is one of the most common diseases affecting the developed world and is strongly linked to the obesity factor. It’s a chronic illness, and like HIV, people don’t die of diabetes but its complications. More than 7 million people with diabetes are undiagnosed, and 1 in 3 American adults is at risk for developing type 2 diabetes
As always and is true for other conditions, prevention is better than cure.
Diabetes involves having high sugar levels in your blood. That may either be due to:
- Deficiency of a hormone (chemical) called insulin leading to Type 1 diabetes (usually onset in childhood) and may be related to the destruction of the pancreas due to injury or disease.
- Insulin resistance: Adequate amounts of insulin are present in the bloodstream but the body fails to utilize it and “uptake” the sugar (insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes).
Having higher than normal levels of insulin in your circulating blood damages many organs.
- Kidneys have tiny blood vessels that get blocked due to diabetes and eventually the kidney loses function and may fail, leading to end-stage renal disease, which can place you on hemodialysis.
- Eyes: The retina has small blood vessels that can get blocked, leading to a loss of vision.
- Blood vessels leading to peripheral arterial disease. Diabetes damages the tiny arteries that feed oxygen and nutrients to the foot, leading to chronic pain, sores that may not heal and possible amputation of toes and, in some cases, the entire foot.
- Neuropathy: Nerves are damaged due to the blockage of blood vessels that supply oxygen to them, leading to a loss in sensation.
Diabetes can lead to delayed wound healing, and even a small cut in your foot can lead to the rapid onset of infection cellulitis, frank pus and osteomyelitis. This is made worse by existing peripheral arterial disease and lack of adequate blood flow to the foot for wounds to heal. People with diabetes also have a loss or decreased sensation to their feet (neuropathy) and this compounds the problem. They may not notice a cut or pain until much later and by that time, the infection may have spread rapidly.
Therefore it is imperative that all patients who have diabetes have their feet checked by a podiatrist (foot doctor) for routine surveillance as this has shown to prevent amputation rates.
For more information, visit the American Diabetes Association website at diabetes.org