How to Prevent Diabetes-Related Complications and Risks

At 12 years old, after getting extremely sick and almost slipping into a coma, Tomas Espinoza was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. As an adult, he put off taking care of his condition for years — until, at the age of 31, he needed all of the toes on his left foot amputated. 

“I wasn't really taking care of myself at that time. I liked to go out drinking and partying, and I wasn't taking my medicine,” said Tomas, now 37. “I could have lost my leg.” 

Looking back, he realizes that his amputation could have been avoided by taking an active role in his diabetes care. Eating healthy food, getting regular exercise and managing blood sugar levels can help prevent or delay long-term, serious diabetes-related complications such as lower-limb amputation, heart disease, vision loss and kidney disease. 

“Diabetics, especially, really need to take control of their health and well-being,” said Dr. Michael Sobolevsky, a podiatry doctor at the Texas Diabetes Institute, the facility run by University Health. “A lot of times, if they wait and linger, it’s too little, too late at that point.” 

The Cost of Uncontrolled Diabetes

Unfortunately, Tomas’s story is not an uncommon one in San Antonio and surrounding Bexar County. Texas has one of the highest rates of diabetes-related amputations in the nation, at about 52 per 100,000 hospital admissions. Yet, compared to Texas overall, Bexar County consistently has even higher hospitalization rates for diabetic amputations. 

“The consequences of ignoring your health as a diabetic can be drastic and cause lifelong disability,” said Sobolevsky, who calls San Antonio “the diabetic foot capital of the world.” “Below-the-knee amputation can shorten your life expectancy, not to mention negatively affect your quality of life.” 

Prolonged high blood sugar can cause complications that raise the chance of a lower-limb amputation. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) limits blood supply, making even a tiny cut heal slowly or not at all. Peripheral nerve damage can cause loss of sensation, meaning cuts, sores, or ulcers on the feet go unnoticed. 

For Sobolevsky’s patient, Tomas, what began as a cut on his foot progressed over time to a full-blown infection that had spread to the bone. After surgical amputation, his wound wasn’t healing correctly and needed to be stapled shut. 

“The healing process took a while, and I had to use a knee scooter for almost seven months,” Tomas said. “I couldn’t really put any pressure on my foot.”

Prevent Diabetes-Related Complications

The effect diabetes has on the body happens slowly, but untreated diabetes can lead to long-term complications or even death. Aside from lower-limb amputations, high blood sugar can lead to a number of other health conditions over time, including: 

  • Heart disease
  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
  • Nerve damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision loss

The key to avoiding diabetes-related complications is managing your blood sugar by eating well, exercising, taking insulin or other medication, and lowering your stress levels. You should also see your primary care provider at least twice a year to find and treat any problems early. 

“Humans are creatures of habit. We don’t like change. It’s still hard for me, trying to adjust to things right now,” Tomas said. “But my diabetes is finally under control.”

Diabetes Care at University Health

Learn more about the world-class diabetes care at the Texas Diabetes Institute. 

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