Diabetes 101: Risks, Complications & Insulin Management

By Kendra Butner, BC-FNP, MBA, CDCES

As you know, diabetes continues to be a growing concern in our society. In this article, I review some of the risks, complications, and the importance of insulin management for diabetes.

High Blood Sugars—Why is this a risk?

Blood sugars are vital to our human function as it gives us the energy we need to live. However, high blood sugar, on the other hand, can be very unsafe. High blood sugars occur when there is not enough insulin to transport energy into our cells. This means the sugars will stay in our bloodstream and cause damage. Most people cannot feel their blood sugars when they are high. In fact, some will have diabetes for a long time before they are formally diagnosed. But unfortunately, by this time, it can be too late to control the irreparable damage. This is the reason behind diabetic complications and why we hear about them happening so often. Many ignore the warnings signs—such as blurred vision, fatigue, pain, and numbness in your feet or legs—until bad things happen. Learn more about other symptoms here.

Complications of Uncontrolled Diabetes

Because diabetes is a cardiovascular disease, truly anything involved with your body’s blood can be affected—which pretty much means almost everything. From head to toe, every system is affected by uncontrolled diabetes. We mostly hear about going blind (in fact, 80% of blindness is caused by diabetes), kidney failure, non-traumatic amputations, and heart disease. But there are many other problems like neuropathy (pain and tingling in the feet), losing teeth, erectile dysfunction, incontinence, and many more issues that people can suffer from. Fortunately, a lot of these complications could be prevented by early aggressive management of blood sugars; however, you MUST be very aware of your health and management. The more you control your diabetes in the beginning, the better the outcome. In fact, we see that some patients with diabetes live better, healthier lives than those not diagnosed with diabetes due to their healthy diet and exercise!

Insulin Management

Insulin management is extremely important. If not managed diligently, too much insulin can cause low blood sugar, which isn’t a good thing. Examples of insulin mismanagement include:

  • Miscalculation of how much insulin is needed for the number of carbohydrates in food
  • A patient not eating as much food as they thought they would eat during a meal or snack
  • Completing more exercise and burning off more energy than predicted

When a person has too much insulin, it can take out too much sugar from their circulation. This is also called hypoglycemia. It can be very dangerous if the blood sugars get very low, as it also can cause serious health issues and faster aging of the cells. This is why it’s so important to manage your insulin intake appropriately.

A way to help manage how much insulin is needed is through continuous glucose monitoring systems. Although not affordable to all, these monitors can be worn continuously by a patient and can show a patient their blood sugar at any point, as well as the direction blood sugars are going. These monitors can also alarm a patient if they are having an extreme blood sugar value.