A high blood sugar level is a serious problem for people with diabetes. But glucose isn’t always the villain it’s made out to be. In fact, the molecule found in starches and sugars is essential to a healthy life because its energy helps to replenish the entire body. “Every cell needs to be opened up and fed a form of glucose,” says Angelo Capricchione, MD, an endocrinologist, diabetes, and thyroid expert at Bingham Memorial Hospital.
That process can’t happen without insulin, a hormone that acts as the “key” to opening those cells. “If the glucose can’t go to the cells, it builds up in the blood, which is why blood glucose levels are used to diagnose the disease,” says Dr. Capricchione.
Someone with diabetes has trouble producing or responding to insulin, which means without treatment there’s a strong risk that glucose will linger and build up in the bloodstream, possibly wreaking havoc as it pulses throughout the body.
Here, we breakdown the parts of the body that are most susceptible to being bullied by high blood sugar, along with tips on how to ensure your body stays as healthy as possible. But make sure you stay in touch with your healthcare providers, especially if conditions become aggravated.
At Risk: The Nerves
A buildup of glucose can cause nerves to misfire. “The body loses the ability to transmit signals to the brain correctly,” Dr. Capricchione says. Such neuropathy can lead to tingly or painful limbs—or even the loss of all sensation. Just imagine the damage if someone with severe neuropathy stepped on a piece of glass or a sharp pebble and was unaware of the injury.
Act Now. Examine your feet frequently for cuts or injuries, says Dr. Capricchone. At least once a year have a complete foot exam, which includes a look at the muscles, bones, and blood flow.
At Risk: The Kidneys
Every day, your kidneys filter 30 to 50 gallons of blood, sending toxins and waste materials packing. “With an increased level of glucose, the kidneys take a pounding,” says Dr. Capricchione, comparing them to overtaxed furnace filters that eventually clog and block airflow. “Eventually it damages the kidneys.” At some point, the only options are dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Act Now. High blood pressure can have a dramatic effect on the progress of kidney disease. Get regular exercise, lose any extra weight, avoid alcohol, and tobacco, and eat less salt. Take the appropriate medications to control blood pressure.
At Risk: The Skin
High glucose levels make the blood thicker, which means it’s harder for the circulatory system to pump nutrients to peripheral parts of the body, such as fingers and toes, leaving them dry. “Dry skin is more prone to cracking and injury,” Dr. Capricchione says.
Act Now. Limit how often you bathe, especially in low-humidity climates. Use mild soap, and apply a hydrating cream after bathing to replace lost moisture.
At Risk: The Eyes
People with diabetes often develop eye problems. “The tiny vessels carrying blood to your eyes can become impaired,” Dr. Capricchione says. This can lead to decreased blood flow and damage to the retina. People with diabetes are also more likely to have damage to the retinas.
Act Now. Have a dilated eye exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist at least once a year.
Manage Your Diabetes
Angelo Capricchione, MD, is a board-certified endocrinologist at Bingham Memorial Hospital. He specializes in the treatment of diabetes and can help you manager your diabetes care. If you think you’re at risk for diabetes or prediabetes, contact Dr. Capricchione’s office at (208) 785-3865. He sees patients in Blackfoot and Pocatello.
Our content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.