Type 1 Diabetes Complications
You Can Prevent Short- and Long-term Complications
Type 1 diabetes is complicated—and if you don’t manage it properly, there are complications, both short-term and long-term. “If you don’t manage it properly” is an important if statement: by carefully managing your blood glucose levels, you can stave off or prevent the short- and long-term complications. And if you’ve already developed diabetes complications, controlling your blood glucose levels can help you manage the symptoms and prevent further damage.
- Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia is low blood glucose (blood sugar). It develops when there’s too much insulin—meaning that you’ve taken (or given your child) too much insulin or that you haven’t properly planned insulin around meals or exercise. Other possible causes of hypoglycemia include certain medications (aspirin, for example, lowers the blood glucose level if you take a dose of more than 81mg) and alcohol (alcohol keeps the liver from releasing glucose).
- Rapid heartbeat
- Paleness of skin
- Numbness in fingers, toes, and lips
- Slurred speech
- Diabetic Ketoacidosis: Diabetic ketoacidosis (sometimes abbreviated to DKA) is sometimes the first indication that a person has type 1 diabetes, and can be a serious complication of lack of insulin.
- Frequent urination
- Extreme thirstiness
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Fruity smell on breath (that’s the smell of ketones being released from your body)
- Cold skin
- Check the blood glucose level: If it’s above 250mg/dl, you have very high blood sugar (blood glucose), and it’s quite possible that you have diabetic ketoacidosis.
- Use a ketone strip to test urine for ketones: Keep these handy at home so that if you suspect DKA, you can immediately test. You can get ketone strips at your local pharmacy; you don’t need a prescription for them. The strip will turn a deep purple if too many ketones are in the body. (If you can’t urinate, drink 8oz and wait 10 to 20 minutes. You should then be able to urinate.)
- Eyes: Because of type 1 diabetes, you can develop cataracts and/or retinopathy in your eyes. Retinopathy, or damage to the retina, is much more common than cataracts in type 1 diabetes, but both can cause loss of vision. To avoid eye problems associated with type 1 diabetes, keep your blood glucose under control and have yearly dilated eye check-ups to monitor your eye health.
- Kidneys: If untreated, kidney disease (also called diabetic nephropathy) leads to dialysis and/or kidney transplant. Uncontrolled (or poorly controlled) diabetes will likely eventually cause the kidneys to fail; they’ll be unable to clean the blood like they should. To prevent diabetic nephropathy, you (or your child) should be tested every year for microalbuminuria, which is a condition that’s an early sign of kidney problems. The test measures how much protein is in the urine. When the kidneys begin to have problems, they start to release too much protein.
- Nerves: Nerve damage caused by diabetes is also known as diabetic neuropathy. The tiny blood vessels “feed” your nerves, so if the blood vessels are damaged, then the nerves will eventually be damaged as well.
There are various types of diabetic neuropathy: peripheral, autonomic, proximal, and focal. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is the most common form of nerve damage, and it most often affects the nerves going to the feet.
People who have had type 1 diabetes for a very long time and who haven’t done well managing their blood glucose may lose sensation in their feet. They may also experience pain, weakness, or tingling.
The most serious complication of diabetic peripheral neuropathy in the feet is that people may not realize when they have a sore on their foot. The sore can become infected, the infection can spread, and left untreated, the foot may need to have surgery to keep the infection from spreading more.