Why Having Diabetes Raises Your Risk for Vascular Disease

If you have diabetes, you know that managing the disease is not only essential for reducing diabetes-related complications, but also for reducing your risk for additional diseases. That’s because those with diabetes have an increased risk for other health conditions, including vascular disease.

Diabetes and Vascular Health

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, when a person has diabetes, they either do not make enough insulin or their body doesn’t use insulin well. As a result, sugar stays in the blood instead of reaching the cells to be used for energy. This affects how your body functions in various ways.

“Diabetes has an effect on every organ system in the body, including the arterial system” said Jihad Abbas, MD, FACS, a vascular surgeon and wound care specialist with Jobst Vascular Institute. “Diabetes affects the arteries directly and indirectly. Directly, plaque builds up easier in the blood vessels. Indirectly, you are more susceptible to infection, your immunity decreases and your nerves are affected and sometimes damaged.”

Blocked blood vessels lead to poor blood flow, which means parts of your body do not get the vital blood and nutrients they need.

Complicated Wounds and Limb Loss

While everyone should know the symptoms of vascular disease, those with diabetes should be especially mindful of the signs because of their increased risk. Burning leg pain (especially when you walk), discoloration in the legs and feet, and persistent cold feet are common symptoms of peripheral artery disease, a type of vascular disease. People with diabetes may also notice that it’s harder for their wounds, especially those in the legs or feet, to heal.

“We always warn diabetics to inspect their feet for any wounds. Look at your feet once a week if not more frequently,” advised Dr. Abbas. “Usually, it’s recommended that they have a podiatrist trim their toe nails rather than doing it on their own because you can cut yourself a lot when you’re doing your nails. On a normal person, that wouldn’t be a problem, but for someone with diabetes it could put them at risk for infection or limb loss.”

According to Dr. Abbas, nonhealing and complicated wounds are often the root cause of limb loss. Last year, the Limb Preservation Board was created at ProMedica to address these types of wounds.

“Healing a wound, especially a complicated wound, is not a one specialty approach. It is a multidisciplinary approach that combines vascular surgery, vascular medicine, plastic surgery, podiatry, infectious disease and rheumatology,” explained Dr. Abbas. “We have excellent specialists on our team in every field, so we decided to bring them all together around the table to discuss complicated wound cases. We’re all working to preserve the functionality of the person by preserving their limbs.”

In addition to watching for nonhealing wounds, people with diabetes and those susceptible to vascular disease should be especially careful during the colder seasons to keep their extremities (hands and feet) warm, clean and dry.

Reducing Your Risk

Ultimately, people with diabetes can reduce their risk for vascular disease by managing their condition. Controlling their blood sugar, maintaining a healthy weight, having healthy cholesterol levels and controlling blood pressure are all important. Avoiding smoking, too, plays a big part in managing diabetes and preventing vascular disease.

“Diabetes, if you do not take care of yourself, can be significantly detrimental to your health, your body and your arteries,” explained Dr. Abbas. “Essentially, if you take care of your diabetes, that will help a lot in preventing vascular disease.”

Learn more about vascular disease.

See the risks and symptoms

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