When most people think of high blood sugar, certain words come to mind. Words like diabetes, insulin resistance, and even hyperglycemia . What they don’t realize is that high blood sugar can result in other problems as well. And these are serious problems that can impact your life in profound ways. Fortunately, a little bit of knowledge can go a long way. I’ve always liked the old axiom: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let’s get into the less common effects of high blood sugar so that you can steer clear of them! My hope is that this post serves as an eye opener to help you make better food choices.
Effects of high blood sugar
With time, consistently high blood sugar can damage your nerves. This condition is called diabetic neuropathy and is also known as peripheral neuropathy. Here’s what happens: prolonged high blood sugar can injure nerves throughout your body leading to nerve damage. These nerves can stop sending messages between different parts of your body. Nerves in the legs and feet tend to be the most affected. Diabetic neuropathy can cause pain and numbness in the legs, feet, as well as the hands. Problems may also occur in your digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels, and even the heart. While some people have mild symptoms, others may find them to be painful and disabling. This is a serious complication of diabetes, affecting up to 50% of diabetics. Additionally, it’s not clear whether you can reverse diabetic neuropathy. You can keep it from getting worse. If it is reversible, then it will take a long time to reverse it, requiring good control of your blood glucose levels.
More nerve damage?
Other effects of high blood sugar include autonomic neuropathy. This refers to a group of symptoms that occur when there is damage to nerves which manage automatic bodily functions. This condition affects the nerves that control involuntary functions such as digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, sweat glands, the eyes, sex organs, etc. According to the American Diabetes Association, autonomic neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes, although it can be caused by other factors as well. For instance, it can also be the result of: alcohol abuse, disorders that involve scarring of tissues around the nerves, diseases that inflame the nerves (e.g Guillain Barré syndrome, a serious health issue wherein the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks parts of the peripheral nervous system), HIV or AIDS, nerve disorders that have been inherited, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, surgery, or injury having to do with the nerves.
Focal neuropathy is another type of neuropathy. This condition develops as a result of prolonged high blood sugar and high levels of fats (such as triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood) in the blood. Nerves and small blood vessels that nourish your nerves become damaged. Focal neuropathy affects a specific nerve or group of nerves which can cause sudden weakness or pain in an affected area. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), focal neuropathy can occur anywhere in the body, such as the head, torso, and legs. Focal neuropathies are diagnosed by doctors who ask about your symptoms and perform tests such as an electromyography (EMG) – a way to evaluate and record electrical activity produced by your skeletal muscles which tell you how your muscles respond to your nerves, as well as through nerve conduction studies. Treatments for this condition include: wearing a split or a brace to take pressure off a particular nerve or taking medications that decrease inflammation. If other approaches fail, then surgery is indicated.
Proximal neuropathy is also known as diabetic amyotrophy. It affects the nerves in the thighs, hips, or buttocks, causing weakness and pain in the affected areas. Additionally, it can result in: sudden and sometimes severe pain in these areas, weakness in the legs that can make it challenging to stand up from a seated position, losses of reflexes such as in the knee-jerk reflexes that doctors test by tapping on your knee with a reflex hammer, muscle wasting – that is, that loss of muscle tissue, and even weight loss. According to the NIDDK, proximal neuropathy is more common in older adults with type 2 diabetes. Proximal neuropathy may be treated by physical therapy in order to increase strength, as well as occupational therapy to assist you with daily activities. The good news is that most people recover from this condition within a few years even without treatment.
Cranial neuropathy affects the nerves that control the muscles of the face, eyes, and ears, causing double vision, facial droop, and hearing loss. According to the American Diabetes Association, cranial neuropathy is a rare complication of diabetes that may suddenly occur. It can resolve on its own within a few weeks, but it can also be permanent. It may also be caused by high blood pressure (hypertension), head injuries, infections, strokes or brain tumors. Controlling diabetes and hypertension can help.
There you have it. These are the 4 main types of neuropathies that can develop from high blood sugar. Becoming diabetic can be so much more than managing your blood sugar and/or taking medication. A better alternative is to avoid high blood sugar levels altogether by watching monitoring your blood glucose levels to avoid having high blood sugar in the first place.
What can you do to avoid high blood sugar levels and spare yourself from more serious issues? Please let us know in the comments…