How Does Diabetes Affect My Physiology?
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A person diagnosed with diabetes experiences ill effects on their health, including a strain on their mental well-being. A diabetic person has high levels of blood sugar. If one manages these levels, they can reduce the risk of excess blood sugar that causes damage throughout the body.
Some common diabetic complications affect our blood vessels and nerves and therefore may affect any part of the body. The increased blood sugar level leads to a decrease in the elasticity of blood vessels. This leads to a reduced supply of blood and oxygen, damaging large and small blood vessels. Damage to large blood vessels is known as a macrovascular disease that leads to complications such as heart attack, stroke, and peripheral arterial diseases which in turn affect the function of the eyes, kidneys, and the nervous system.
Another common complication seen among diabetic patients is slow healing i.e a diabetic person requires more time to heal from a wound or an infection as poor circulation affects the body's ability to heal. This happens due to a low supply of blood, oxygen, and nutrients.
The Nervous System
Nerve damage or neuropathy is a common complication seen in a diabetic person. Moreover, these symptoms progress and worsen in people who have been diabetic for many years. Neuropathy can affect any part of the body, including the nerves that control autonomic or involuntary functions. The most common form of neuropathy seen in a diabetic person is peripheral neuropathy. In this form, one can experience pain and numbness in the extremities in their body parts including legs, arms, and hips. According to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), up to 50% of people with diabetes have peripheral neuropathy, whereas 30% have autonomic neuropathy 1.
Apart from the impact on the neurological system and related complications, diabetes may affect specific organs including the following:
The Kidneys and Urinary System
After a certain time, high blood sugar levels affect and damage the blood vessels in the kidneys. This affects the functioning of the kidneys preventing the organ from filtering waste out of the blood, ultimately resulting in kidney failure. According to the NIDDK, diabetes is one of the major causes of kidney failure as it affects 1 in 4 diabetic people 2.
Diabetes damages the nervous systems that affect the autonomic body functions, including digestion. To explain it in detail, gastroparesis happens when nerve damage interferes with the digestive system that moves food from the stomach to the large intestine. This damage in turn can lead to complications like nausea, bloating, vomiting, abdominal pain, weight loss, and acid reflux.
Diabetes can lead to vision loss as it affects the nerves and causes many eye-related problems - blurred vision being one example. High blood sugar levels may also lead to long-term complications like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular oedema, and cataracts.
In some cases, diabetes may have prominent consequences that affect skin health. The symptoms of diabetes visible on the skin range from mild to severe. Some of the warning signs that appear on your skin are patches, darkening, hardening/ thickening, blistering, swelling, itching, dryness, and soreness. Studies and researches have even found links between type 2 diabetes and psoriasis. A person with high blood sugar may also observe a high level of fat in the blood that causes reddish-yellow lesions known as xanthomas - also a warning sign for pancreatitis. If wounds develop from calluses, foot sores, and dry skin, it may lead to ulcers. An ignored foot ulcer may cause harm to an extent that the patient may need an amputation. Hence, timely treatment is critical.
Diabetes affects an individual's mental health in various ways. It's quite often an underrated and overlooked aspect. Diabetic patients are prone to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. A diabetic person has to adopt a new lifestyle that includes drastic changes in eating habits, which can be stressful. Added responsibilities such as glucose and insulin tracking, medical appointments, limiting alcohol consumption, and fully eliminating sugar can be taxing and emotionally tiring, hurting overall mental health.
Apart from all the above complications that affect a patient's physiology, diabetes also disrupts and imbalances the whole process of metabolism and can prove to be life-threatening/ fatal. Over the years, there is an increase in the impact diabetes has on one's health. It can affect any part of your body. However, if sufficient care is taken to manage eating habits, exercise daily, and regularly check blood sugar levels, a patient can keep the disease under control and live a relatively normal life.
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