Understanding both diabetes and venous disease is an important aspect of living with them, finding treatment and relief for them, and carrying on with as normal of a life as possible.
Let’s talk about some important things such as diabetes, blood circulation, symptoms of diabetes, what you can do to prevent diabetes and venous disease, and more.
Things You Need to Know About Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease that affects how the body uses blood sugar. It is important for your health because it provides energy for the cells found in your muscles and tissues. It is also your brain’s primary source of energy.
Normally, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin that helps use or store sugar and fat from food. When you have diabetes, this process does not happen. Instead, your body might struggle to make insulin or it might not use it effectively.
There are four main types of diabetes, which include type 1, type 2, pre-diabetes, and gestational diabetes. The underlying cause is different based on the type, but they all lead to excess glucose in the blood. Left untreated, diabetes can cause serious health problems.
Type 1 and 2 Diabetes
These two are chronic health issues. Type 1 is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks or destroys cells in the pancreas. This limits the body’s ability to produce insulin. No one knows why this happens, but it accounts for about 10% of people with diabetes. Type 1 is considered a genetic condition, so there are no known ways to prevent it.
Type 2 occurs when the body is resistant to insulin. Unlike type 1, there are precautions you can take to prevent or delay the onset of the disease. This includes regular physical activity and eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar.
Prediabetes is when your blood sugar levels are higher than what is considered normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. This condition may be reversible through diet and exercise if caught in the early stages.
Diabetes during Pregnancy
Gestational diabetes is a condition that sometimes occurs during pregnancy. As some women don’t experience signs, this condition can be missed until it is detected through a routine blood sugar test or oral glucose tolerance test that typically occurs between 24 and 28 weeks of gestation. It may resolve itself after the baby has been born or it could further develop into type 2 diabetes. Even if the condition improves, women who have experienced gestational diabetes may be at risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. In addition, signs of type 1 diabetes can start quickly.
- Increased thirst
- Extreme hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent urination
Type 2 diabetes takes longer to develop, so symptoms may go unnoticed by the patient. It is often diagnosed once other health concerns are addressed such as blurred vision or heart disease.
Symptoms are similar to those of type 1 with some additions:
- Sores that take a long time to heal
- Recurring infections
These symptoms are the result of high blood sugar levels making it difficult for the body to heal fast.
While there isn’t a cure for diabetes, both types can be managed through medication and by making healthy lifestyle choices.
Tips for living with and controlling diabetes
- Avoiding refined sugars and carbohydrates
- Avoiding sweet beverages including alcohol
- Coordinating meals with medication
- Engaging in regular exercise (30 minutes per day)
- Drink a lot of water
- Checking your blood sugar levels daily
- Maintaining regular checkups with your doctor
If diabetes is left untreated, it can lead to serious health complications including heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and nerve damage.
What is Chronic Venous Insufficiency?
Venous disease, otherwise known as Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI), affects the veins in your legs. Normally, the veins in your legs move blood back to your heart. To stop blood from traveling backward, veins have “one way” valves. When you have venous disease, these valves do not function properly. Instead, some of the blood travels back down to the legs causing blood to pool in the veins.
Eventually, this condition leads to pain, swelling, and skin changes in your legs such as open sores.
Blood clots are a common cause behind CVI. When a blood clot develops in a deep vein in your leg, it can damage a valve. Also, a lack of regular physical activity can cause CVI including sitting or standing for a long period of time. This is due to having an increase in blood pressure in your veins that may weaken the valve over time.
Risk Factors for developing CVI
- Over the age of 50
- A smoker
- From a family with a history of CVI
- Pregnant (or have been pregnant more than once)
- Someone with a history of blood clots
The Most Common Symptoms Associated with CVI
- Swelling in the lower leg or ankle
- Varicose veins
- Dry skin
Left untreated, pressure and swelling can cause the tiny blood vessels in your legs to break. This may cause nearby skin to turn red and brown and swelling or ulcers could develop. Sores can take a while to heal and can become infected, putting you at risk for more health problems.
While there isn’t a cure for CVI, proper treatment can help prevent swelling and leg ulcers. Treatments include making lifestyle changes, diabetic socks for men and women, and medication to prevent deep vein thrombosis. In some cases, you may need to have surgery to repair or remove damaged veins.
Does Diabetes Cause Venous Insufficiency?
Venous disease is often associated with other chronic conditions. While diabetes can exacerbate symptoms of venous insufficiency, it is not a direct cause.
That said, the two diseases share common risk factors, and having both can cause further health issues. Common risk factors include:
- Overweight or obese
- Inactive lifestyle
- Age (usually 50 years and older)
- Having a family history of diabetes and circulatory issues
- Eating an unhealthy diet that is high in fat and processed sugar
Both impact blood circulation. With venous disease, veins in the limbs have difficulty circulating blood back to the heart. This causes blood to pool in the veins, leading to the eventual weakening of blood vessel walls.
Diabetes affects blood circulation by interfering with the function of blood vessels that transport blood from the heart to other areas of the body. Over time, high blood sugar levels weaken blood vessel walls causing inflammation or infection to occur. This is concerning for people with uncontrolled diabetes, who may experience permanent nerve damage or swelling of the legs and feet.
Preventing Diabetes and Venous Disease
While there is no way to prevent chronic conditions such as diabetes and venous disease, you can reduce your risk of developing both conditions by making simple lifestyle changes. This includes:
- Eliminating sugar and refined carbs from your diet.
- Engaging in regular physical activity (around 30 minutes every day). Walking and swimming are recommended because they are easy on the joints, help build calf and leg muscles, and promote blood circulation with minimal risk of injury for most people.
- Losing weight if you are overweight or obese.
- Quitting smoking if you are a smoker.
- Choosing water over other types of beverages, especially alcohol or sugary drinks.
- Eating a high fiber diet.
- Wearing men’s and women’s socks for diabetes if you are going to be standing for a long period of time throughout the day.
- Monitoring for changes in your foot and leg health. This includes looking for signs of skin discoloration, swelling, and enlarged veins.
- Taking medication as prescribed by your doctor and attending any follow-up appointments as necessary.
Before making drastic changes to your lifestyle, it is important to get evaluated by your doctor first. This is particularly important if you want to start exercising. You should always slowly increase physical activity instead of going all out. Otherwise, it can be dangerous for your health.
Living a healthy lifestyle is the best thing that you can do to decrease the risk of both diseases. Even if you have both, making changes to your diet and exercise can help you in a number of different ways, not just relating to these diseases. That’s easier said than done, but even small changes to your lifestyle can help and it will be easier with time. Of course, even people living generally healthy lifestyles can be affected by these diseases. Learning to manage them, and live with them, will be a lifelong journey.