Diabetes is a leading cause of death globally, contributing to 1.5 million deaths in 2019 alone. Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) alone accounts for more than 95% of worldwide diabetic patients and is even more prevalent in the Asian population. While there are multiple ways to manage the disease effectively, complications of diabetes mellitus can still arise over time if blood sugar levels are not controlled.
Approximately one-third to half of the diabetic population suffers from complications of the disease. Let’s take a closer look at the different complications of diabetes mellitus and how to manage them.
Complications of Diabetes Mellitus
In Western medicine, diabetes causes damage to various tissues and can be classified into macrovascular and microvascular complications.
Macrovascular complications of diabetes
Changes to the major blood vessels such as arteries cause macrovascular complications. Prolonged elevation of blood glucose levels damages cells and leads to fat deposits accumulating in the arteries. When this occurs, arteries become narrower and lose elasticity.
As a result, blood flow reduces while blood pressure in the arteries remains high. The blood vessels may also be completely clogged, stopping the blood supply to parts of the body. Over time, the following complications will arise:
- Cardiovascular diseases (heart attacks)
- Cerebrovascular diseases (strokes)
- Peripheral vascular disorders (diabetic foot ulcers)
Microvascular complications of diabetes
On the other hand, damage to the smaller blood vessels, such as capillaries, and nerves, cause microvascular complications. Chronically high blood glucose and pressure will affect other organs over time causing diseases such as:
- Retinopathy – a condition where tiny blood vessels around the retina swell and fluids leak, preventing proper nourishment to the retina, eventually affecting vision, or leading to blindness.
- Nephropathy – kidney damage. As high blood pressure damages the “filters”, excessive glucose overloads the kidneys.
- Neuropathy – occurs when elevated glucose levels in the blood damage the neurons, causing either pain or loss of sensation.
Managing Diabetes Complications
It’s crucial to seek proper medical treatment if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above. Depending on your overall condition, physicians may prescribe drugs to help you manage blood glucose levels. In some cases, doctors may prescribe you with insulin injections.
Apart from medication, lifestyle modifications are essential to reduce the risk of complications. In addition, there are natural Eastern therapies that can help alleviate this condition.
Most importantly, make sure you monitor your blood sugar levels and regularly follow up with your medical practitioner. By controlling blood sugar, you will be able to reduce the risk of complications. Your doctor will also conduct screening tests for the early diagnosis and prevention of complications of diabetes.
A well-balanced diet that is appropriate for people with diabetes is one of the key components of managing the disease. Most importantly, you’ll have to eliminate sugar and sugary substances from your diet. Some of the recommended dietary changes include switching to low-carbohydrate diets and avoiding foods that can be converted to glucose in massive amounts.
There are various dietary styles that revolve around the avoidance of carbohydrates as the primary energy source for the body, such as Atkin’s diet, keto diet, and paleo diet. However, watch out for the high-fat content of some of these diets as they can still be detrimental to vascular health in diabetic individuals. Consult your physician or nutritionist before embarking on such diets.
It’s also ideal to eat fibre-rich foods to help increase the retention of fat when food passes through the intestines, preventing absorption into the bloodstream. Certain vegetables like cluster beans and okra prevent the absorption of sugar and maintain sugar levels. The essence of chicken can also help reduce high blood sugar levels, a key factor in T2DM.
However, avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks like coffee. These beverages are diuretic (promotes water loss through urination). Diabetic patients are already trying hard to cope with the high glucose levels in the bloodstream. Less water in the blood only aggravates the condition.
TCM and acupuncture
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), diabetes is viewed as a disease arising from the yin (passive energy) Deficiency and the presence of Dry Heat in the body. The disease progresses with subsequent yang (active energy) Deficiency, especially the Kidney yang, causing qi (life force) and Blood Stagnation.
According to TCM Physician Peh Wei Jie, this is reflective of later-stage diabetes, where patients experience reduced blood flow to the peripheral limbs.
“TCM physicians may recommend using acupuncture to complement patients’ Western treatment plan to help the uptake of sugar in the blood to achieve normalization. This helps increase insulin production and reduce insulin resistance,” advised Physician Peh.
“Seek only qualified TCM practitioners for acupuncture treatments.”
Exercise daily, even if it’s just half an hour, as it improves blood circulation and helps reduce blood glucose levels at the same time.
Smoking is profoundly detrimental to cardiovascular health. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking vastly improves your chances of keeping the complications of diabetes under control.
Diabetes is a condition where blood glucose control is impaired. If left unmanaged, it can lead to complications of diabetes mellitus. The disease progression can easily be delayed, sometimes indefinitely, with proper management. Whether you are healthy, pre-diabetic or already diabetic, follow these recommendations for a better quality of life.
- World Health Organization. 2022. Diabetes. [Online] [Accessed March 2022].
- Asian Diabetes Prevention Initiative. Why are Asians at higher risk? [online] [Accessed 27 March, 2022]
- Physical Therapy. 2008. Diabetes-related microvascular and macrovascular diseases in the physical therapy setting. [online] [Accessed 27 March 2022]