Controlling blood sugar is the most effective way to prevent diabetes complications. Additional self-care steps can help safeguard vulnerable areas of your body.
Moisturizer, toothpaste, a water bottle, and sunglasses: These might sound like things to pack for a weekend getaway, but they’re actually an essential part of a diabetes hygiene plan that covers you from head to toe.
Because diabetes affects your blood vessels, it can reach every part of your body. So if you have diabetes, caring for your body becomes of prime importance. Here’s how to give yourself some serious TLC to help avoid many possible diabetes complications:
Caring for your skin. Getting enough water is important to good skin care with diabetes. That’s because skin dries more easily with poorly controlled blood sugar, says Dianne Brown, CDE, a certified diabetes educator with the Diabetes Life Clinic, part of the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center at the University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. Dry skin is a concern because it can develop cracks. “This can allow bacteria to enter and cause a skin infection,” Brown says. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and moisturize immediately after bathing.
Caring for your eyes. Diabetes is the leading cause of adult blindness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes also increases your likelihood of developing cataracts and glaucoma. Have your eyes checked every year to find any problems as early as possible. If you experience any sudden change in vision, tell your eye doctor right away — don’t wait for your annual visit. Protect your vision on a daily basis by wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays whenever you’re outside.
Caring for your feet. Take time to examine your feet at least once a day for cuts, blisters, and pressure sores. If you have neuropathy — nerve damage that can cause changes in nerve sensation, including loss of feeling — you may not feel these foot issues, so you have to be vigilant about looking for them. Because diabetes makes fighting infection difficult, little sores can become big problems if not attended to right away. “If you can’t examine your feet on your own, ask someone to help or get a long mirror to be able to look under your feet,” Brown says. Call your doctor at the first sign of foot irritation that’s not improving. Protect your feet on a daily basis by wearing closed-toe shoes and never go barefoot, even at home.
Caring for your mouth. Diabetes significantly increases your risk for gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss. Brown recommends careful daily brushing and flossing, and dental checkups every 6 months. “Healthy teeth are very important for eating the high-fiber foods — fresh fruits and vegetables — that people with diabetes need to eat to be healthy,” she says. This will be a struggle if you have poor oral health.
Caring for your nerves. Many people with diabetes develop mild neuropathy over time, and about one in three has more severe loss of sensation in their feet. Damage to nerves puts you at risk for falls, injuries, difficulty with mobility, and amputations. Blood sugar control is crucial to slowing nerve damage. Exercise may also be helpful, and it’s good for boosting overall health.
Caring for your heart. Because diabetes damages big and small blood vessels, it can affect your heart and your circulation. Nearly two-thirds of people with diabetes have high blood pressure, and people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die of heart disease or have a stroke than people who don’t have the disease are. To protect your heart, talk to your doctor about controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol, Brown says. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and being physically active on a regular basis can help maintain good heart health.
Caring for your kidneys. Nearly half of all cases of kidney failure result from diabetes. Controlling blood sugar and blood pressure can help protect your kidneys. Talk to your doctor about what else you can do to keep your kidneys healthy.
Caring for your sex organs. It’s not always brought up during diabetes education, but diabetes can negatively affect your sex life. Lost sensation, reduced libido, and erectile dysfunction are all possible diabetes complications. Along with good blood sugar control, healthy lifestyle habits — including a nutritious diet and regular physical activity — can help promote a healthy sex life.
Caring for your brain. Emerging research suggests that type 2 diabetes increases the risk for cognitive impairment. A study published in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that type 2 diabetes appears to lead to structural changes in the brain and, in turn, cognitive impairment, such as changes in memory and thinking skills. Working diligently every day to control blood sugar is the best way to protect this vital organ
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