Diabetes is a disease which affects many of your body systems. It can lead to blindness, kidney disease, disease of the nerves (neuropathy), blockage of the arteries (which may lead to a stroke or a heart attack), a weakening of the immune system, possible amputation, and a decreased overall life expectancy and quality of life.
So what is diabetes? Diabetes is an endocrine disease in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone which is necessary for proper metabolism of glucose, proteins, and fats in your body. It is necessary for the function and protein synthesis inside your cells and in your body, overall.
How is diabetes diagnosed? A fasting blood sugar may be taken, and you may have a ‘glucose tolerance test.’ In this test, you will have to fast overnight and be asked to drink 75mg of glucose solution. A positive result from the test will diagnose diabetes. Also, a hemoglobin A1C may be ordered in your blood work. This can help diagnose diabetes, but is mainly used to give information to your doctors on how well the disease has been controlled over a 3 month period.
Why are you at risk for amputation as a diabetic? Because a diabetic has a compromised immune system, often has neuropathy (where there is a diminished sense of feeling in the feet), and often has diminished circulation in their lower extremities, their feet and legs are at risk. Without blood to carry oxygen and healing factors to the legs, there is an increased risk of infection and a faster spread of infection. Also, a patient with neuropathy may step on a foreign object, obtain an open wound, or have a bad infection, and not even be aware of it until it is too late. When such an infection gets into the bones of the feet or legs, the end result is often an amputation.
What can you do as a patient? The key to avoiding the complications of diabetes is tight glucose control. Oral medication, Insulin, regular monitoring of your blood sugar with a glucometer, and exercise are imperative for controlling the disease. A multispecialty approach with a primary care doctor, an endocrinologist, a podiatrist, and a nutritionist will help you to live a long and healthy life.