How diabetes affects various parts of the body
Diabetes affects millions of people across the globe. Data from the International Diabetes Federation indicates that the number of adults with diabetes reached 537 million in 2021. Despite a growing awareness of the disease and ad campaigns designed to educate individuals about diabetes prevention, the number of people with diabetes is predicted to rise by more than 100 million by 2030 and reach 783 million by 2045.
Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin or cannot effectively utilize the insulin it produces. Recognizing how diabetes affects the body can shed light on just how debilitating the disease can become.
The National Eye Institute notes that chronically high blood sugar from diabetes can cause damage in the retina that ultimately leads to diabetic retinopathy. That’s because excessive sugar in the blood can lead to the blockage of tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. That blockage effectively cuts off the blood supply to the retina, prompting the eye to attempt to grow new blood vessels. However, the Mayo Clinic notes that these new vessels do not develop properly and can leak easily. The longer a person has diabetes and the less controlled their blood sugar is, the more likely they are to develop diabetic retinopathy, which can cause blindness.
According to the Michiganbased Beaumont Health, individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk for developing heart disease at a younger age and in a more severe form than those without diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that this link is due to the damage that high blood sugar causes to the vessels and nerves that control the heart. In addition, people with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure, too much LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol in their bloodstream and high triglycerides, which is a type of fat in the blood. Each of these conditions increases a person’s risk for heart disease.
Diabetes also affects the skin. In fact, the Michigan-based not-for-profit group Beaumont Health notes that a skin issue is often the first sign that a person has diabetes. That’s because diabetes damages blood vessels in the skin, leading to issues such as diabetic dermopathy. Diabetic dermopathy is characterized by brown, raised patches of skin, typically on the legs. The American Academy of Dermatology reports that, when diabetes affects the skin, this is often a sign that blood sugar levels are too high. The AAD offers a list and brief rundown of the various ways diabetes and prediabetes can affect the skin at aad. org/public/diseases/a-z/diabetes- warning-signs.
The National Kidney Foundation notes that diabetes damages small blood vessels throughout the body, including in the kidneys. When vessels in the kidneys are damaged, the kidneys cannot clean blood properly. As a result, the body retains more water and salt than it should, which produces a host of negative consequences, including weight gain and the buildup of waste materials in the blood. In addition, elevated blood sugar levels force the kidneys to work harder. Over time, all that extra work can lead to kidney failure.
Diabetes is a potentially deadly, yet often preventable disease. By taking measures to safeguard themselves against diabetes, individuals are protecting various parts of their body from the ripple effects of the disease.