When someone tells you to picture your body, what comes to mind? Do you think of your organs, hidden underneath your skin? Do you see your skeleton, or maybe a limb? Whatever does come to mind, the odds are you aren’t picturing your soft tissue bits. They are often overlooked aspects when considering self-care, but for diabetics, it is extremely important to pay attention to them.
What exactly is soft tissue then?
Soft tissue includes the tissues that connect, support, or surround other structures and organs of the body, not being hard tissue such as bone. The primary examples of this are your tendons, ligaments, skin, muscles, fat, nerves, blood vessels, and all other fibrous tissues. This article will focus primarily on issues diabetics face with their skin, nerves, and muscles. If you want to learn more about how tendons and ligaments are impacted, check out our article ¨Diabetes and Tendons.¨
Damage to soft tissue is typically seen as a long-term complication of having diabetes.
If you haven’t followed a strict regimen with your insulin medications, or have had diabetes for a long period of time, you are likely to experience some of the following issues:
- Damage to various types of blood vessels
- Neuropathy (damage to nerves) which usually results in a lack of feeling in extremities, or a numbness or tingling, particularly in the legs. This is caused by too much sugar in the blood harming your capillaries. If left unattended, this can have serious consequences ranging from a total lack of feeling to a need for amputation
- Nephropathy (kidney damage): your kidney is composed of millions of small blood vessels designed to filter waste from your bloodstream. In the same way blood sugar impacts nerves, diabetes can make it difficult for your kidneys to function properly.
- Digestion issues: if nerve damage has impacted your digestive tract, you may have a few uncomfortable troubles. You may experience all of the symptoms of the Pepto Bismol commercials- nausea, upset stomach, indigestion, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Diabetic retinopathy (damage to blood vessels in the eye) issues here can lead to total blindness, and an increased risk for other common eyes problems, like glaucoma or cataracts.
- Foot issues: some complications for diabetics with their feet stem from poor blood flow. The decreased flow to this area can result in blisters and cuts, which often do not heal well or become infected. This usually is a side effect of Neuropathy (see above) and can be difficult to notice, leading to amputations of a single toe, foot, or entire leg. (Since this is such a serious concern for diabetics, we will follow up this article with one entirely dedicated to foot care, so stay tuned.)
- Skin issues: people with diabetes are much more susceptible to skin conditions caused by bacterial and fungal infections
This may seem like an overwhelming list of issues, but remember, these are considered long-term complications that occur without regular and consistent care. There are ways to reduce your risk of facing these problems. As always, we recommend you speak frankly to your doctor about any concerns you may have- you may feel silly asking these questions at first but feeling silly for a moment is better than losing all feeling in your limbs!
We stress three methods for preventing these issues (healthy eating, weight loss, and exercise) repeatedly because they work! According to the Mayo Clinic losing even “7% of your body weight” can significantly reduce complications associated with diabetes. It is never too late to engage in these self-care steps!
Speaking of steps, if you want to learn more about diabetic foot care, stay tuned for next week’s article.