How to avoid diabetes complications

Posted on 2 November 2020

If left untreated, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can lead to severe and life-threatening complications. But catch them early and your chance of undergoing these complications is reduced.

The bad news: Those horror stories you hear about diabetes are not just urban legends. The good news: with proper care, you can lessen their effects or possibly even avoid harm entirely.


  1. Blindness

The risk of blindness is especially high in cases of undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. “Every day that passes by with high sugar damages the protein and tissue in the body,” says Dr Daksha Jivan, an endocrinologist at Mediclinic Morningside and Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg. “The result is poor vision because of the damage to the eyes.” This is why blurred vision is a common indicator of undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. “Patients don’t go blind immediately,” adds Dr Jaco Buys, a GP at Mediclinic Bloemfontein. “Their sight deteriorates and when they’re older, maybe only in their 70s, they find they’ve developed very poor sight.”

What you can do: Don’t ignore changes to your eyesight; speak to your doctor. ‘One thing I find that people don’t take seriously enough is when their vision changes – particularly when they’re over the age of 45,’ says Dr Jivan. ‘They just assume their vision is getting worse because of age.’


  1. Kidney failure

This is another complication that’s especially dangerous because of the slow rate at which it develops. ‘Normally, when patients develop kidney damage, it’s slower in the beginning and asymptomatic, so it may only be picked up very late with a blood test. And that’s why we’re concerned – because it is a silent killer,’ says Dr Jivan.

What you can do: “If you notice that you’re thirstier than usual, passing urine unusually often or waking up to drink water frequently during the night, see your doctor for a diabetes screening immediately. If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, visit your GP for a check-up at least every six months to make sure there are no complications,” recommends Dr Buys.


  1. Losing a limb

“Losing a limb to diabetes is avoidable, although it does happen,” says Gladys Phala, a podiatrist at Mediclinic Medforum in Pretoria. “Diabetes complications cause nerve damage, known as “neuropathy”, and poor blood supply (peripheral arterial disease) to the feet and toes,” she explains. In some patients/individuals, this causes pain, tingling or burning, especially at night. Others may lose sensation, putting them at risk for burns and injury, which can quickly become serious. “Poor blood supply often leads to non-healing wounds”’ says Phala. “When wounds heal slowly, there’s a high risk of infection, which in turn leads to death of tissue (gangrene).” A simple cut or blister could thus result in foot amputation.

What you can do: “It starts with self-care”, says Phala. “Moisturise your feet to avoid dry, cracked heels. Avoid shoes that give you blisters. If you develop a corn or blister, see a doctor. And check your feet daily, using a mirror or with the help of a family member”, she advises. If you notice any cuts, sores, swelling or nail abnormalities, see your doctor immediately. Have your GP check your feet at every visit, and at least once a year, visit a podiatrist for an in-depth check-up.

Published in Diabetes

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