I can remember the day I was diagnosed with diabetes clear as anything. I was 23, a bit in shock but also quite relieved to have a diagnosis. A label that would mean that the end was in sight for how I had been feeling. I want up to the hospital, received an explanation of what my treatment plan would be and a pep-talk on how type 1 diabetes doesn’t have to be an immediate death sentence.
I can clearly recall the doctor explaining that it would take hard work to keep my diabetes under control, but that in doing so I would keep the complications at bay. We didn’t discuss complications in detail that day, and rightly so. It wasn’t the time to be dwelling on the potential issues of the future. He made his point about the importance of doing my best with my diabetes control and left it at that.
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What Are Diabetes Complications?
Simply put, they are issues that may arise in your body due to higher blood glucose levels. Most of them appear over time, you don’t suddenly wake up one day and find that you have developed them all over night.
Retinopathy (Eye Problems)
As far as I can tell from speaking to my fellow type 1’s in the diabetes online community, retinopathy appears to be one of the more common diabetes complications. Damage to the blood vessels on the retina can eventually lead to blindness, but it doesn’t always have to reach that level. As with all diabetes complications early intervention is key and that is why it is so important to attend your regular eye screenings.
Neuropathy (Nerve Problems)
The blood vessels that take care of your nerves can become damaged, and that leads to a change of feeling in your fingers and toes that can then spread up your legs or arms. The feeling can be a tingling, numbness, burning sensation or a pain and varies from person to person.
Nephropathy (Kidney Damage)
Part of your annual screening will include testing of a urine sample to track your kidney function. Damage from increased blood glucose levels can lead to kidney failure or even irreversible kidney disease.
Bacteria thrive in areas with higher blood glucose. That, combined with the potential for neuropathy meaning you didn’t feel a possible cut or burn, can mean that infection takes hold. In the most severe cases this can result in amputation.
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When Will We Get Them?
Whether it was intentional or not, during my diagnosis the doctor left me with the impression that if I kept my control tight and my hba1c low then I wouldn’t have to worry….. and I’m not the only one. Over the last 6 years I have seen countless people in the diabetes community be surprised when they have developed background retinopathy. Many people are devastated initially, not knowing what they’ve done wrong.
When I visited my consultant a few months ago he brought something to my attention – diabetes complications are inevitable. Now I don’t mean we’re all going to lose our sight and have no feeling in our extremities. But a huge percentage of people with type 1 diabetes will get back ground retinopathy during their life time. It doesn’t have to be a big deal and for a lot of people it will clear up itself, but it will have been there however briefly.
The same goes for our feet. As far as I’m aware from my last check I still have 100% feeling in my feet. I have now had diabetes for 6 years, and my consultant gave me a gentle reminder that it might not always stay that way. It’ll probably slip to 95%, and then 90%. Possibly lower – only time will tell.
At first that realisation shocked me a bit. I have had it in my head for so long that if I keep doing what I’ll be doing then I’ll be fine. But the reality is that I’m not “normal”. Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong incurable disease (eugh I HATE that word). It’s a chronic illness and, unless you maintain blood sugar levels at a non-diabetic level then it is higher than it should be. Even by just a small amount.
So What Do We Do About It?
Well…… nothing! There is nothing we can do. I am a big believer in not stressing about things you can’t change, and this is definitely one of those things. Of course we still need to work hard with our diabetes management and make use of the tools available to us to stay as healthy as we can be. Then we can just handle the complications where they come.
Knowing that you’re doing the best you possibly can is all you need. If you have a diabetes complication crop up then handle it and move on. Know that it’s not your fault, and blame diabetes. It sucks.
Why not join our Facebook Group which is hub for women with all different types of diabetes. It is a safe place to ask questions, share knowledge and be open about how you are coping.
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