Last week we learned a little about Diabetes Mellitus (DM) Type 1 and 2 and Pre-diabetes, as well as what can cause them. This week we are going to discuss some of things DM does to your body.
Most of the damaging effects of DM are due to the high levels of glucose streaming in the blood (aka – high blood sugar). That is why it is so important to control your blood sugar, first and foremost by diet and exercise, and lastly by medicine prescribed by your doctor. The effects of DM can be divided into two categories: “macrovascular” (effects are seen in larger blood vessels) and “microvascular” (effects are seen in smaller sized blood vessels). “Macrovascular” damage from DM can lead to heart disease, stroke, or a buildup of fatty plaques in the walls of the blood vessels which starts to clog up the vessels, like dirt and hair in a shower drain, which makes it hard for blood to flow normally (this is call “atherosclerosis”). Consult your primary care physician for more information regarding these topics.
Today we are going to focus on some of the “microvascular” effects of DM. There are three main areas where symptoms are seen with uncontrolled high blood sugar. The first two areas are “retinopathy” and “nephropathy”. Retinopathy refers to damage to the retina of the eye that involves blurring of vision or possibly seeing “floaters” or dark spots floating around in your normal vision. Nephropathy refers to damage to various parts of the kidneys. The exact causes of damage and areas that become dysfunctional may vary, but the end result is a decline in the normal function of the kidney, which can progress to a very serious life-threatening problem over time if not addressed.
The third area of microvascular damage caused by DM, and the area we will talk most about today, is called “neuropathy”, which is damage to nerves in arms, legs, and torso. Nerves actually have a cell body and a long tail, so to speak, that connects body parts to the brain for both muscle function and sensations such as pain, temperature, and touch. When blood sugar is high and uncontrolled, early symptoms are usually related to nerve damage. This is seen as tingling, burning, pins-and-needles sensations or total loss of feeling that usually starts at the ends of the toes and progresses towards your foot and eventually up your legs. Since feeling is impaired at this point, a person would not be able to tell if something was wrong with his or her feet unless he looked at them closely every single day.
Diabetes also causes a person to be more prone to infections which, combined with the loss of feeling in the feet, can lead to serious ulcerations and infections that, in the worst case scenario, could lead to amputation of a foot or entire leg. There are many other possibilities that this loss of feeling could lead to, including fungal infections, joint dysfunction or collapse, skin and bone infections, decreased blood supply leading to poor health of your skin and toenails, and overall unawareness of traumatic injuries such as cuts or blisters.
If you are experiencing any tingling, burning, numbness or other abnormal feeling in your toes, feet, legs, or anywhere in your body, you should contact Dr. Berg immediately. Call our office at 206.368.7000 or request an appointment through our website.
It is best to catch these symptoms early to find out the cause and start a treatment plan to slow down or stop the progression of nerve damage (and other damages previously discussed, as well as those not discussed in this blog).
Persons diagnosed with diabetes mellitus should inspect their feet daily to check for open wounds or other changes, as well as have regular visits to a podiatrist, who is specialized in detection and treatment of effects of diabetes in the feet. Whether you have been diagnosed with diabetes or think you are in perfect health, the number one way to take care of your body, prevent or treat diabetes, and ensure the long-term health of your feet is simple: exercise regularly and develop a healthy well-balanced diet.
It starts with small changes and a daily choice to make yourself better. Consult Dr. Berg today if you are concerned in any way about the health of your legs or feet.
Rion A. Berg DPM
Podiatrist and Board Certified Foot Surgeon
Located In Northeast Seattle