About 30 million lives in the US are affected by diabetes—roughly more than 9% of the entire population. Due to this, caregivers will likely care for a patient with diabetes in the course of their career.
Diabetes is a disease characterized by high blood sugar, because the body lacks insulin or fails to use insulin correctly. Insulin is needed by the body to use sugar or glucose for the body’s energy needs. This means that, even if they eat, patients with diabetes constantly feel hungry, because their body cannot use the sugar from food.
Also, when blood sugar levels remain high for a long time, it causes a series of problems in many parts of the body. The first organs to show problems are usually the kidneys. Patients pass large amounts of urine, and since they lose water this way, they are always thirsty.
Diabetes affects many organs and body systems, and caregivers need to be aware of what this disease can do to the body before they can provide necessary and effective care.
1. Cardiovascular system
Diabetes that goes unchecked can cause damage to the large blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. In fact, people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a stroke or die of a heart problem than those without the disease. The finer vessels, called capillaries, are also affected, and this is the root cause of many other complications.
Sensitive parts like the tiny blood vessels in the eyes are affected by diabetes. In the long run, it leads to poor vision or even blindness.
3. Nervous system
Diabetes also causes injury to the nerves, and the effects are usually not felt until later in the course of the disease. Patients feel pain and numbness in their hands, arms, toes, feet, and legs. It will be hard for these patients to feel if something is too hot or too cold to touch.
4. Urinary system
Constant high blood sugar destroys the kidneys, too. Early in the disease, it allows the passage of large amounts of urine. Later, the damage becomes so severe that the kidneys fail to produce urine altogether.
5. Digestive system
Diabetes cause changes in digestion, wherein the movement of food to the intestines becomes slow. The patient feels bloated and will experience nausea, vomiting, and heartburn, or burning pain in the chest caused by acid backing up in the throat.
People with diabetes are prone to skin breakouts, irritations, itchiness, and infections. Bacterial infections, such as boils and styes as well as fungal infections, are fairly common. Also, any break in the skin, like a wound or a cut, will take longer to heal.
What do all these complications mean for the caregiver?
People with diabetes will have a host of problems if their disease goes uncontrolled or untreated. The good news is that, with the right treatment and management, the above complications may not happen at all (or take a longer to occur).
It is the caregiver’s responsibility to strictly follow all recommendations of care, particularly in providing a healthy diet and promoting a healthy lifestyle. Help the patient to exercise, and stop smoking and drinking alcohol. Encourage them to make nutritious food choices. Most of all, assist the patient in taking their medications on time without missing a dose.
Caring for a patient with diabetic complications can be overwhelming, so it is vital caregivers work well together with the healthcare team to ensure patients get the best care possible.
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