Diabetes and Vascular Disease, How Can They Effect You

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A man with a backpack looking out over mountains, thinking about diabetes and varicose veins.

Diabetes is a disease the effects 18.2 million Americans, with one-third of these people being unaware they even have diabetes.  There are another 41 million people in the pre-diabetes stage, where there is still a chance to reverse things before it develops into type II Diabetes.

Diabetes: What it Means

With type I diabetes, a person’s immune system has destroyed the insulin-producing cells, making it impossible to produce any at all. Instead, energy is created from glucose. As a result, the 5 to 10 percent of people living with type I diabetes have to take insulin every day.

Type II diabetes, on the other hand,  either cannot produce enough insulin or the body becomes resistant to their own. Which also requires them to get insulin through medication. Type II is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for between 90 to 95 percent of all cases of diabetes.

Diabetes and Vascular Disease

While diabetes that is not well-maintained can lead to a number of very serious, and sometimes fatal, health problems, one of the biggest are vascular diseases. There are a number of different vascular diseases that can be caused, including Retinopathy, Nephropathy, Neuropathy, Atherosclerosis, Stroke, and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).

In general, these diseases are brought on due to there being too much glucose in the blood, as it damages the blood vessels in the body.


 Retinopathy is a diabetic eye disease that is broken down into both diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema (DME). People with retinopathy are also at risk of developing cataracts or glaucoma.

 Diabetic retinopathy happens when there are changes to blood vessels in the retina, which can cause them to break or leak. As a result, a person with diabetic retinopathy’s vision may become distorted. This is the leading cause of blindness among adults with diabetes. DME, on the other hand, occurs because of diabetic retinopathy and refers to swelling in a specific part of the retina known as the macula.

 Diabetic retinopathy tends to go unnoticed until it starts to physically affect a person’s vision. Symptoms include floating spots in front of the eyes caused by bleeding from blood vessels in the retinas or blurred vision. While spots may go away on their own, they will reoccur, which increases the chance of complete vision loss.


 Another vascular disease that can happen as a result of diabetes is nephropathy, a form of kidney disease or damage. The kidneys contain a number of small blood vessels which filter waste from the body’s blood. But, if a diabetic’s blood sugar is too high, it can actually damage or entirely destroy the blood vessels. As time goes on, the kidneys will begin to be unable to do their job very well, leading to kidney failure.

 People with high blood pressure or high cholesterol are more at risk of developing nephropathy. Nephropathy tends to go unnoticed at first, but by having regular urine tests, you will be able to catch kidney problems sooner. However, you should watch for swelling in your body, usually your legs and feet, as that will be a sign of a growing kidney problem.


 Diabetic neuropathy is something that about half of the people with diabetes suffer from, though more common in those who have had diabetes for a long time. It can be caused by high blood sugar levels, which can damage nerve fibers throughout the body, but mostly in the hands and feet. Symptoms can range from just pain and numbness to problems with your digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels, and even your heart.

“Type II is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for between 90 to 95 percent of all cases of diabetes.”


Atherosclerosis occurs when damage to the endothelium, a cell lining surrounding arteries. Usually, this damage is caused by either high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking. This damage usually then leads to plaque forming on the wall of the artery. Eventually, this wall can lead to a blockage that does not allow the blood to flow as it should. It can lead to a number of other health problems, including strokes.

Symptoms do not occur until a diabetic reaches middle age when the narrowing of arteries becomes more severe as they cut off blood flow, which can cause pain and blood vessel ruptures.


While strokes are not special to diabetes, they are 1.5 times more likely for diabetics. Strokes occur when the blood supply to a portion of the brain gets cut off, causing damage to brain tissue. In most cases, the stroke occurs due to a blood clot blocking blood flow to the neck or brain. A stroke can cause a person to have problems with movement, thinking, memories, and speaking, among other things.

There are a number of warning signs that come with a stroke, including:

  • Feeling weak or numb on one side of your body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding
  • Difficulty talking
  • Dizziness, loss of balance, or trouble walking
  • Trouble seeing out of one or both your eyes
  • Double vision
  • A severe headache

If you feel any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately to seek treatment.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

PAD is the final kind of vascular disease that occurs when blood vessels in the legs become narrowed or blocked, causing a decreased blood flow in the legs and feet. PAD puts you at a higher risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke, especially when you are diabetic. Other factors that play a role in PAD include:

  • Smoking
  • HBP
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels
  • Your weight
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Being 50 or older
  • Personal or family history of heart disease, heart attacks, or strokes.

Your doctor will talk you through the best plan of action should you develop any of these vascular diseases. While they are all serious, if your diabetes is properly maintained, you may not have to worry about any of them at all, or until later in your life. The most important thing to do is properly manage your glucose levels, eat a proper diet, and see your doctor regularly.

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