WJMC - West Jefferson Medical Center

WJMC - West Jefferson Medical Center

The Diabetic Body - Risks & Complications

WJMC - Diabetes Information New Orleans 2014


According to the world health organization, diabetes affects 347 million people worldwide. However, the majority of diabetics are originally diagnosed with prediabetes, which presents the opportunity to alter unhealthy dietary habits and prevent full diabetes. Additionally, those with diabetes can prevent negative complications by heeding the advice of their healthcare professional, engaging in regular physical activity, and accurately managing glucose levels. In other words, diabetic complications are largely preventable. There is a distinction between living with diabetes and dying from it. The difference is YOU! Take action and take action early.

Diabetes 101:

There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 Diabetes is typically diagnosed in children and is categorized by the body’s inability to produce insulin. Type 2 Diabetes is diagnosed later in life. The body does not produce enough insulin or the body’s cells begin to ignore insulin.

Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas that allows your body to convert glucose into energy.

How many people are affected?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. 6.5 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, which equals approximately 20,730,775 people. Most individuals diagnosed with diabetes are between the ages of 40 and 60, but the average age is quickly dropping as younger and younger people are being diagnosed with diabetes. Each year, there are approximately 1.586 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed in the U.S.

Contributing Factors:

While weight is the common scapegoat for diabetes, family history, ethnicity, and age play important roles. Most overweight people will never develop Type 2 diabetes, and many people with diabetes are of a normal weight or only moderately overweight.

What can diabetes do to the body?

Diabetic complications stem from three main issues: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and unstable blood glucose levels. Since diabetes affects the blood vessels and nerves, it can affect almost any and every part of the body. However, certain parts of the body are more heavily affected like the heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves, and feet. The terrifying reality is that diabetes causes more deaths per year than breast cancer and AIDs combined. Two out of three people with diabetes will die from heart disease or stroke.

The Silver Lining:

The complications brought about by diabetes take years to develop and are not certain. Those diagnosed with diabetes can keep these negative effects at bay by maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding of cigarettes and alcohol, and getting regular physical activity can help keep blood sugar levels within the recommended glucose levels.


Diabetes contributes to high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which increases your risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease. Heart disease and stroke are the number one cause of death and related disabilities among those with Type 2 diabetes. Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or stroke than adults without diabetes. A staggering 65 percent of diabetics die from some form of heart disease or stroke. However, the American Heart Association considers diabetes to be one of the seven major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease.


The most common impact of diabetes on the eyes is known as diabetic retinopathy. Between 40 to 45 percent of Americans with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. This is occurs when blood vessels in the back of the eye (known as the retina) swell and leak. High blood pressure is also a contributing factor. Diabetic retinopathy can lead to loss in vision or in severe cases, blindness. Those with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from cataracts or glaucoma when compared to the general population.

The Kidneys:

Diabetes can affect the kidneys in the form of diabetic nephropathy, which is defined as damage or disease associated with diabetes that affects the kidneys. Damage can begin as early as 5 to 10 years before symptoms appear. 20 to 30 percent of diabetes patients with Type 1 or Type 2 develop nephropathy. Diabetes is the most common single cause of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) in the U.S and Europe. Kidney damage is more likely if you have uncontrolled blood sugar, high blood pressure, family members who also have diabetes and kidney problems, you smoke, or you were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes before you were 20 years old.

Symptoms of kidney damage include consistent fatigue, general feelings of illness, headache, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, swelling of the legs, and irritated skin.


Diabetes affects the nerves through diabetic neuropathy, which is very common in those with diabetes. An estimated 60 to 70% of Americans with diabetes will be diagnosed with neuropathy. This refers to nerve damage that occurs when high blood sugar injures nerve fibers throughout the body. Diabetic neuropathy most commonly affects the nerves in the legs and feet.

Diabetic neuropathy can range from mild to painful, disabling, and even fatal. Symptoms include numbness in the extremities, digestive system problems, urinary tract problems, blood vessel and heart problems, lack of arousal in the penis or clitoris, excessive sweating, or gastroparesis.


A combination of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and nerve disease can lead to complications of the foot. Since diabetic nerve damage lessens the ability to feel pain, heat, and cold, many diabetics can suffer from a foot injury and not be aware of it. This can lead to infection and complications.

Many diabetics experience dry feet because the nerves controlling oil and moisture cease to function, which can lead to calluses and ulcers. These symptoms are the result of poor circulation, which limits the individuals’ ability to ward off infection or to heal properly. Diabetes causes blood vessels in the foot and legs to harden and restrict, which can increase an individuals’ risk for foot or leg amputation. As a direct result of long-term nerve damage, those with diabetes face 25% risk of amputation of amputation throughout their lifetime. Amputations are reported to be 15 times more common for diabetics in comparison to non-diabetics. Half of all amputations occur in those with diabetes.

Take Action! Preventative Measures:

Before developing Type 2 diabetes, individuals are usually diagnosed with “prediabetes,” which can present the opportunity to prevent the onset of full diabetes. An estimated 86 million Americans over the age of 20 have prediabetes, which is caused by blood glucose levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes. Those with prediabetes are more likely to develop diabetes within 10 years, which can also lead to an increased chance for heart attack or stroke.

While these may be intimidating stats, diabetes prevention is possible and proven. Studies show that people at a high risk for diabetes can prevent or delay the onset of the disease by losing five to seven percent of their body weight. For instance, an individual weighing 200 pounds would be advised to lose 10 to 14 pounds.

There are two keys to success: Prediabetic patients are recommended to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days a week. Individuals with prediabetes are also advised to eat a variety of foods that are low in fat, while reducing their overall caloric intake.

A study completed by The Diabetes Prevention Program reported that people with prediabetes who walked or engaged in other physical activity for 30 minutes a day, at least 5 times per week (while also losing five to seven percent of their total weight) were able to cut their risk for developing diabetes by 60 percent.

Another increasingly popular recommendation by The American Diabetes Association is that prediabetic individuals should also avoid the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages to help prevent diabetes. This includes regular soda, fruit punch, fruit energy drinks, sports drinks, sweet tea, etc.

WJMC & Diabetes:

West Jefferson Medical Center is the only designated diabetes unit in the region. WJMC received the American Diabetes Association Education Recognition Certificate for their quality diabetes self-management education program. On staff, WJMC has four certified lifestyle coaches that have completed training in the National Diabetes Prevention Program. They also actively participate in the National Diabetes Prevention Program.

In the past year, 368 patients have participated in an outpatient class held by WJMC. The program includes an intensive half-day class and a follow-up with the Certified Diabetes Nurse and Dietician Educators. Their program includes two groups with 17 total participants completing the one-year program. One group with nine participants is currently in post-core sessions and one group with 11 participants is currently engaged in core sessions. The combined total weight loss for all groups is currently at 625 pounds.

For more information on preventing or managing diabetes, call 504-349-2222 or visit http://www.wjmc.org/WJMC-Diabetes-Services.aspx


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