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Chronic Diabetes Complications

How to Avoid 10 Chronic Diabetes Complications

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Quick summary

Older adults are at increased risk for many serious, sometimes life-threatening diabetes-related conditions, often the result of years of undetected or untreated high blood sugar levels. That's why it's vitally important that the person you're caring for practice good diabetes management by keeping blood glucose under control, giving up cigarettes, eating well, staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking medications, which together can go a long way toward avoiding or slowing down common complications.

Diabetes-related complications that threaten a patient's heart

1. High blood pressure

What it is: This condition, also known as hypertension, occurs when blood flows through the body's blood vessels with greater than normal pressure. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 millimeters of mercury or below; blood pressure of 130/80 or higher is considered hypertension.

What it does: High blood pressure can place excess strain on the heart, damage blood vessels, and increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney problems.

How to prevent it: A balanced, low-salt diet; regular exercise; stress management; and moderate alcohol consumption can all help. So can prescription medications. The patient should have her blood pressure checked at every doctor's visit.

2. Heart disease and stroke

What it is: Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease or coronary artery disease, damages the arteries and veins of the heart -- and high blood glucose is thought to make this disease worse or more complicated. A stroke is the result of damage to blood vessels in the brain.

What it does: High blood sugar can cause hardening of the heart arteries, known as atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attack or stroke, depriving the brain of oxygen. That can lead in turn to speech or mobility loss. Heart disease and stroke combined account for about 65 percent of deaths in people with diabetes.

How to prevent it: The person you're caring for should aim to keep her blood pressure and lipid or fat levels -- including cholesterol and triglycerides -- within the recommended range. Lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and medications can also help. The American Diabetes Association recommends that most people with type 2 diabetes take an aspirin a day, as aspirin use has been linked to a lower risk of heart attack. The suggested dose ranges from 81 milligrams (mg) a day, the amount found in baby aspirin, to 325 mg a day, the amount contained in an adult tablet. Using the lowest possible dosage may help reduce such side effects as gastrointestinal problems. But be sure to ask the doctor what he recommends. Heart disease is easiest to treat when detected early, so make sure the patient sees her main diabetes doctor at least two or three times a year.