Diabetes is a relatively common condition in Australia, affecting up to 5.3 percent of the population. In 2020, it was ranked as the seventh most common cause of death in the country. Although it may be common, it can have a significant impact on your health and quality of life.

As an experienced vascular surgeon in Melbourne, Dr Adrian Ling works closely with a number of health specialists to provide comprehensive, holistic care to patients diagnosed with this condition.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose levels are too high. While the condition is manageable, without proper care and treatment it can have significant health consequences.

The saying goes you are what you eat and there is an element of truth in that. The food we eat is transformed into blood glucose, which acts as the body’s main source of energy. Glucose from food arrives at our cells via the help of insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas. For people diagnosed with diabetes, insulin is not produced in sufficient amounts to convert glucose into energy. Glucose stays in the bloodstream, which can have damaging short and long term consequences.

Diabetes is not one condition, rather the term is used to describe three separate but closely linked diseases. For patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, their body produces little to no insulin. Type 1 diabetes typically appears in childhood or adolescence and there is no prevention or cure.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is the most common variety of the disease and occurs when a person’s body fails to produce adequate levels of insulin or does not respond to insulin the way that it should. Type 2 diabetes is more common in Australia and tends to affect those over the age of 45 who are overweight and perhaps also have a family history of the disease.

Finally gestational diabetes affects some pregnant women and tends to go away after the baby is born. However, women diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy may be at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

How does diabetes affect vascular health?

All types of diabetes come with short and long term health complications, many of which affect the vascular system. It’s important that those diagnosed with diabetes or at risk of developing the disease are aware of these and the steps required to protect their health and wellbeing.

Some of the most common vascular complications that arise from diabetes include:

Renovascular conditions: Renovascular conditions are those that affect the arteries leading towards the kidneys. Prolonged high levels of blood sugar can damage the tiny blood vessels that filter waste from your body. This type of damage tends to be irreversible and can lead to kidney failure.

Diabetic retinopathy: Our eyes are surrounded by tiny blood vessels that carry important fluids to the retina. Having too much sugar in your blood can damage these vessels, causing oxygen supply to become blocked. Early symptoms can include clouded vision that can eventually lead to complete blindness.

Foot ulcers: Foot ulcers are a common complication of diabetes that usually occur on the pressure points of your toes and the balls of your feet. A number of different factors contribute to foot ulcers forming, including poor circulation, a reduced ability to fight off infection, and nerve damage (from high sugar levels) resulting in change in the structure of the foot and decreased sensation such that patients are unaware if they are developing a pressure ulcer. Foot ulcers can progress to the point where amputation is often required.

Heart disease: Heart disease is a comprehensive term that covers everything from stroke to cardiac arrest. Having diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, significantly increases your likelihood of developing heart disease due to damaged arteries. Diabetes, particularly type 2, is also commonly associated with several other health conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.

Strategies for managing your health

Given that preventable type 2 diabetes is more common than type 1, it’s worth being aware of strategies you can use to manage your health and reduce your risk of developing the condition. Many of these strategies are simple lifestyle changes that will improve all aspects of your health, not just your vascular system.

Exercise: Regular exercise is an important part of preventing and managing diabetes. 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day is an excellent way of looking after your health.

Eating healthy foods: If you’re concerned about diabetes, a simple way to mitigate your risk is by avoiding foods that are high in sugar and offer little fibre or nutrients. Instead, focus on whole, plant-based foods with plenty of fibre.

Focus on holistic health: Fad diets or intense exercise programs are unlikely to promote long-term behavioural changes. Instead, think about small but effective ways you can improve your health and wellbeing — like choosing to walk to the train station instead of driving.

The best way to manage your health is by speaking with an experienced medical professional. As an experienced vascular surgeon in Melbourne, who is also a member of the Diabetic Foot Unit at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Dr Adrian Ling has been providing high-quality vascular health care to his patients for many years and understands the complexities associated with diabetes. He works with a number of other health specialists to provide comprehensive assistance for your vascular needs.

Contact Dr Ling today to learn more about his services and approach to vascular care.