Diabetes Complications You May Not Know About

What conditions you need to be aware of when you have diabetes.

Jean Weiss
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Of course you know that eye problems, heart disease and neuropathy go hand in hand with uncontrolled diabetes, but did you know the disease also raises your risk of digestive problems, hearing loss and liver trouble? Here’s how to protect yourself.

What it is: Gastroparesis is a condition in which your stomach doesn’t empty properly after eating.

Why you could be at risk: Most people who develop gastroparesis have had diabetes for more than 10 years, says William Hasler, MD, professor in the division of gastroenterology in the University of Michigan Health System. However, you’re at special risk if you don’t have good control over your blood sugar.

Keep an eye out for: Nausea and vomiting. You may also feel severe pain in your upper abdomen. In about 7% of cases, bloat is the worst symptom. 

To rein in your risk: Test your blood sugar levels frequently and get A1c tests regularly to monitor your progress. If you can’t seem to get your blood sugar into a healthy range, tell your doctor or diabetes educator

What it is: Severe scarring of the liver that impairs the organ’s ability to function.

Why you could be at risk: Insulin resistance and the body-wide inflammation associated with diabetes, coupled with obesity, may increase the risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD, the accumulation of fat in the liver in people who drink little or no alcohol), says Anna Mae Diehl, MD, professor and chief, division of gastroenterology, Duke University. In fact, experts estimate between one-half and two-thirds of people with diabetes have NAFLD, she adds. Over time, the condition can progress to cirrhosis.

Keep an eye out for: Vague symptoms, such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping, memory lapses and swelling of feet and legs. Even if symptoms seem mild and random, tell your doctor, says Dr. Diehl. 

To rein in your risk: Keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range. If you’re not active, try getting regular exercise: Talk to your doctor about NAFLD; ask how much, if any, alcohol is safe for you, find out if you should be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, and ask if you should be tested for hepatitis C. Dr. Diehl also recommends telling your doctor about any supplements, because they could be harming your liver. 

April 2013