What are The Complications of Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a chronic medical condition which develops when the body does not produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to it. Insulin is a natural hormone produced by the beta cells in the pancreas. When you eat foods that are rich in carbohydrates, glucose will be absorbed into the bloodstream. Glucose is a form of sugar, the main source of energy for all the cells in the body. When the level of glucose in the bloodstream rises, the pancreas will secrete insulin to help process and absorb glucose to be used for energy or stored. This will help to lower high glucose levels in the bloodstream. If blood glucose levels become too low because you have not eaten, the liver will break down the stored glycogen, turning it into glucose, which will then be released into the bloodstream. This will help to restore the blood glucose levels within the normal range.
In people with type 2 diabetes, this process does not function normally because there is not enough insulin. Therefore, instead of glucose moving into the body tissues such as muscle cells, it stays in the bloodstream. When the blood glucose levels in the bloodstream build up, the pancreas will secrete more insulin to help glucose enter the muscle cells. Eventually, the beta cells in the pancreas will become impaired and will fail to produce enough insulin to keep up with the body’s demand. This will lead to abnormally high blood sugar levels that can lead to serious health complications such as blindness, kidney damage and nerve damage. It is not yet known why some people develop T2D while others don’t. However, researchers believe that certain risk factors such as family history, lack of physical activity, race, age and other factors increase the risk of developing T2D.
Long term complications of type 2 diabetes
Long term complications of type 2 diabetes can become life threatening if left untreated. The longer you have T2D and the less you manage your blood sugar levels, the higher your risk of developing long term health complications.
The following are long term complications of T2D
- Stroke and heart disease
People who have T2D have a higher risk of developing heart disease or stroke. When the blood sugar levels remain too high, it increases the risk of having atherosclerosis, where the blood vessels narrow and become clogged up with fatty substances. This can also cause angina as a result of poor blood supply to the heart. It may also increase the risk of blood vessels in the brain or heart becoming blocked, which may lead to stroke or heart disease.
- Nerve damage
High blood sugar levels in T2D can damage the tiny blood vessels in the nerves. This can lead to burning, tingling, numbness or pain that starts at the tip of your toes or fingers and spreads gradually upwards. If left untreated, you could end up losing a sense of feeling in the limbs that are affected. In case of damage in nerves that are related to digestion, it can lead to problems such as constipation, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
- Sexual dysfunction
In men with T2D who experience nerve or blood vessel damage, it could lead to erectile dysfunction. However, sexual dysfunction in men can be treated with medications like Viagra or Cialis. On the other hand, women with type 2 diabetes can experience the following:
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Dryness in the vagina
- Loss of sexual pleasure
- Loss of libido or sex drive
- Inability to orgasm
Women who experience pain during sex can use water-based gel or vaginal lubricant.
- Kidney damage
The kidneys consists of millions of small blood vessels which filter waste from the bloodstream. Diabetes can impair this filtering system. If the small blood vessels in the kidney become leaky or are blocked, your kidney will function less efficiently. Severe damage to the blood vessels can lead to kidney failure or kidney disease that is irreversible, which requires kidney transplant or dialysis treatment.
- Foot damage
Damage of nerve vessels in the feet can lead to poor blood flow to the limb which increases the risk of developing foot complications. If left untreated, blisters and cuts in the affected foot can lead to severe infections, which heal poorly. These infections may require toe or foot amputation.
- Eye damage
T2D can damage the blood vessels in the retina which causes blindness. Diabetes can also lead to risk of contracting other eye problems such as glaucoma and cataracts.
- Skin conditions and hearing problems
T2D increases the risk of having skin problems such as fungal and bacterial infections. Also, people with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing hearing problems.
- Alzheimer’s disease
Patients with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. If your blood glucose level is not properly controlled, it increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It is not yet known why diabetes affects the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Short term complications of type 2 diabetes
Short term health complications of type 2 diabetes can develop in case the blood sugar level is too high or too low for the body to function properly. In case you notice any signs of short term complications, you need to treat it immediately to prevent the risk of an emergency.
The most common short term complications are hypoglycemia and ketoacidosis
Hypoglycemia is a condition characterized by extremely low blood sugar levels. A patient is defined to have hypoglycemia if their blood sugar level is below 4.0 mmol/l.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include
- increased heart rate
If you notice any of these symptoms, you may be able to treat the condition by eating carbohydrate-rich or sugary foods, such as non-diet soda, raisins, or hard candies, and by calling a doctor. It is important to treat hypoglycemia immediately to prevent the risk of blood sugar falling to dangerous levels.
Ketoacidosis develops when the body goes for long periods of time without insulin because it is required in order to fuel the cells of the body. Insulin is a natural hormone which helps glucose to enter the body cells for energy. People with type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin. Without insulin, the body will start to break down fat to release ketones into the bloodstream which will be used for fuel without the need of insulin. If the levels of ketones in the bloodstream become too high, it could lead to ketoacidosis, which can be dangerous. Diabetic ketoacidosis should be treated under close supervision of a health care provider. Severe ketoacidosis should be treated inside an emergency room or hospital.
Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.