Vascular Diseases are the principal cause of disability in diabetic patients. To understand the reason for this, we will briefly explain the role of your vascular system.
Your vascular system is part of your circulatory system, which includes your heart. Your vascular system consists of blood vessels; arteries, veins, arterioles, venules and capillaries. The blood vessels are the transit system, so to speak, where blood travels throughout your body. After the heart pumps oxygen rich blood into the aortic valve and into the aorta which is the largest artery in the body, the arteries, arterioles and capillaries deliver oxygen rich blood and nutrients to all of our organs, and extremities, and then the veins return deoxygenated blood and waste back to the heart, and the process begins all over again. Without oxygen rich blood and nutrients being constantly delivered, our brain, organs and extremities will suffer. This is where complications of diabetes come into play.
People with diabetes have too much sugar in their blood. Excess sugar in our blood damages the inner linings of both our large and small arteries by decreasing the elasticity of blood vessels. The damaged blood vessels respond by layering on plaque, a substance made from fatty substances, calcium, waste products, cholesterol and fibrin, that fills in the arteries. This causes our blood vessels to narrow, impeding blood flow and reducing the supply of blood and oxygen to our organs, extremities and nerves. Oftentimes people with diabetes also have high blood pressure. High blood pressure damages arteries too, as plaque will accumulate along tears in your artery wall, which stresses our circulatory system. Consequently, people with diabetes are at a higher risk for certain vascular diseases.
Of particular concern are the eyes, kidneys, legs and feet. Diabetics must pay close attention and visit their doctor and specialists regularly, to have their levels checked, and to keep a close watch on any changes they may experience. Here are some of the ways in which people with diabetes may experience vascular disease.
- Eyes – The tiny blood vessels in the retina may become inflamed, which blocks oxygen rich blood from reaching the retina. If the condition becomes severe, blindness may occur.
- Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) – PAD occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries and reduces blood flow to your legs and feet. The first signs may be pain in your legs while walking which subsides while resting. Wounds that will not heal often develop in advanced PAD. If left untreated, gangrene can develop and amputation may result.
- Renovascular Conditions – Diabetes affects the blood vessels of the kidneys and can lead to kidney failure and the need for a kidney transplant. Oftentimes damage goes undetected until it is advanced and is not reversible.
Prevention is the best course of action. If you suffer from diabetes, your best defense against vascular complications is a good offense!
- Get an annual eye exam and be on alert for any changes.
- Exercise is the best way to keep your circulation in tip top shape! Consistent exercise, especially walking, can lessen the symptoms of PAD, and over time can create more blood vessels by expanding the network of capillaries! Patients who have PAD symptoms, should have regular checkups with a vascular surgeon and podiatrist. Always speak to your doctor before starting an exercise routine.
- See a doctor regularly for blood tests which can detect kidney failure in its early stages. Keeping an eye on your blood sugar and blood pressure can reduce the risk of diabetes related kidney failure. If caught early, kidney problems may be treated with medications and may prevent the need for dialysis in the future.
- Stop Smoking! – Cigarette smoking also damages blood vessels, particularly for those people with diabetes. Tobacco causes inflammation, which in turn causes plaque buildup.
Self-care is an important part of staying healthy and living a longer life. Your body will thank you!
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