A rare life-threatening complication: ketoacidosis
If cells don’t get enough glucose to produce energy, over time your body begins to burn fat which produces chemicals called ketones. When ketones build up in your blood, it means your diabetes is out of control and you may be developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Ketones can poison your body if extremely high and cause coma and even death.
Although ketoacidosis is one of the rare side effects of type 2 diabetes, it does happen. DKA is more likely to develop if you’re sick with another illness — like the flu or a cold.
Talk to your doctor about how you can quickly detect ketones with a simple urine test strip. Seek medical help if you experience any of the symptoms of ketoacidosis, including unusual tiredness, breath with a fruity odor, excessive thirst, nausea, and vomiting.
Long-term side effects of type 2 diabetes
Small blood vessels can be damaged over time if your blood sugar levels are consistently too high, resulting in problems in your eyes, kidneys, and nerves.
Diabetic retionopathy, the most common cause of vision loss in people with diabetes, affects blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue called the retina, found in the back of the eye. Between 40 and 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy, according to the National Eye Institute.
Diabetic macular edema results from a build-up of fluid in part of the retina called the macula, which is crucial for the straight-ahead vision you need to drive, recognize faces, and read. DME is the primary cause of vision loss in people who have diabetic retinopathy.
People with diabetes are also 40 percent more likely to develop potentially vision damaging glaucoma and 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts compared to people without diabetes. See an ophthalmologist every year for an eye exam to check for any damage and to start treatments, if needed.
Kidney disease (also known as diabetic nephropathy) is another potentially serious complication of type 2 diabetes. If untreated it can cause impaired kidney function and kidney failure, leading eventually to dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Most people with diabetic kidney disease do not have symptoms, and the only way to know if you are developing diabetic nephropathy is to have your kidney function checked. The National Institute of Diabetic and Digestive and Kidney Diseases advises people with type 2 diabetes to see their doctor every year for blood and urine tests for kidney disease.
Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) is another common complication of type 2 diabetes. In fact, about half of all people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes have nerve damage. There are several types of diabetic neuropathy, but the most common forms affect the hands and feet, causing pain, tingling, weakness, and numbness.
Losing sensation in your feet from this type 2 diabetes complication can be dangerous because you may not realize you have a foot injury or infected sore. People with diabetes have an increased risk for certain skin problems, too, including bacterial and fungal infections, itching, and diabetic blisters.
To help prevent these complications of type 2 diabetes, it’s important to not only keep blood sugar well-regulated but to live a heart healthy lifestyle — don’t smoke, have your cholesterol levels checked every year and have excessive cholesterol levels treated, and make sure your blood pressure is under control.
Take charge of type 2 diabetes and its side effects
If you have type 2 diabetes, it can be worrisome to consider possible long-term complications you may develop from the disease. But remember, most of these health problems develop over many years and are primarily caused by blood glucose levels that are too high. You can protect your health by keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range through meal planning with a dietician, taking any prescribed medication regularly, working with your doctor to lose weight if needed, and staying physically active.
February 28, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN