As healthcare workers, we are able to provide our patients with information to help them change their lives. There are many individuals with type two diabetes in our patient population. Knowing the complications of uncontrolled diabetes helps us when educating our patients. Hopefully it motivates them to control their diabetes better and live healthier lives.

Common Complications of Type 2 Diabetes

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On the list of preventable lifestyle diseases, Type 2 diabetes often sits near the top. Unfortunately, poor diet and inactivity have led to a widespread growth in the number of cases of adults and children with Type 2 diabetes. In fact, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that over 100 million people in the U.S. are either diabetic or prediabetic.

As a nurse, you are more than likely to encounter a patient managing Type 2 diabetes and unfortunately, research shows that 1 out of 4 adults with diabetes don’t even know they have it. Like hypertension, it is often considered a “silent disease” because there aren’t many outwardly presenting symptoms until something goes pretty wrong.

Over time, long-term complications can seriously challenge a patient’s health outcomes and even increase their risk of dying. Don’t miss this quick guide to common complications of Type 2 diabetes and what you as a nurse should look out for:

Blood Vessel Damage

Diabetes is a metabolic disease and when left unmanaged, places the vascular system in extreme detriment. High blood sugar levels facilitate greater oxidative stress or an increase in free radicals which damage blood vessels. This leads to systemic inflammation and some research has shown that the enzymes the body produces to help combat that inflammation rely on healthy insulin sensitivity, something which a patient with diabetes does not have.

As the integrity of blood vessels around the body are compromised over years of high blood sugar levels, organs, nerves, and tissues all over the body start to deteriorate. Complications arise including:

  • Kidney dysfunction - as the primary filters, the kidneys help to rid toxins and waste from the body. Millions and millions of tiny blood vessels in the kidneys help with this transport and filtering process, but when diabetes damages them, they can no longer sufficiently do their job. Kidney failure and even end-stage kidney disease can result leading a patient to require a kidney transplant or dialysis for the rest of their life.

  • Nerve damage - nerves require nourishment just like any other component in the body. When damaged blood vessels are unable to deliver much-need oxygen and nutrients to nerves, they can start to fail leading to symptoms of tingling, pain, numbness, and burning. In patients with diabetes, this is most often felt in the feet and legs, however, nerve damage can also disrupt digestive processes and even contribute to erectile dysfunction.

  • Eye problems - diabetic retinopathy results from retina dysfunction because of blood vessel damage in the eyes. Diabetes also contributes to eye issues like glaucoma, cataracts, and can even lead to total blindness.

  • Heart and blood vessel disease - the entire cardiovascular system is put at risk in a patient with diabetes which means they become more susceptible to life-threatening problems like stroke, heart attack, angina, hypertension, and atherosclerosis.

  • Skin conditions - damaged blood vessels equal compromised circulation which weakens your body’s defense against infection, especially from bacterial and fungal pathogens on the skin. Diabetics are more likely to experience slow wound healing, and poor blood flow combined with nerve damage will often lead to severe tissue damage in the feet (which can require amputation).

  • Additional problems - scientists have also linked conditions like gum disease, hearing impairment, and even Alzheimer’s disease to diabetes.

How Can Nurses Help Patients with Type II Diabetes

Depending on the setting in which you are working with a patient (at home, in a hospital, in a long-term care facility, doctor’s office, etc), the work you do with patients who have diabetes may vary. Overall, however, there are a handful of key actions nurses can reinforce with patients regarding their diabetes management:

Diet and exercise - a new study published in the journal The Lancet found that for patients with a recent diagnosis of diabetes (within the past 6 years), losing a significant amount of weight (upwards of 30 pounds) may help reverse diabetes. Weight loss can also promote greater physical activity and healthier diet choices (like those that eliminate sugar, fatty processed foods) to combat high blood sugar levels.

Self-monitoring - a patient is their own best health advocate so it is critical that they have the tools and knowledge they need to successfully manage the disease at home. Having a glucometer on hand, for example, allows them to check and track their blood sugar regularly and monitor how their diet and activity levels affect it.

Stress management and sleep - controlling blood sugar levels when the body is even minorly insulin resistant is difficult enough without high blood pressure-inducing stress on top of it. Research has shown that more, quality sleep can help reduce the risk of diabetic complications as can stress-busting techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing.

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Author Biography

Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com.  Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.

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AuthorCourtney Tracy