As a person living with type 1 diabetes, you are probably well aware of the many secondary complications that can accompany this disease.
Things like retinopathy, kidney disease, and neuropathy are all common problems faced by those with poorly controlled blood sugars and those who have lived with T1D for a long time.
But did you know that there are other diseases, much less directly related to type 1, that are also more common among those living with diabetes?
Here are ten of the most common health problems type 1 diabetics are likely to experience.
It is important to keep in mind that while you may be at an increased risk for certain diseases, there is no guarantee you will suffer from any of these conditions. And, in fact, by focusing on strong blood sugar management and taking care of yourself, you can reduce your risk of developing many of the diseases on this list.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of people who have lived a long time with type 1. About 44% of those living with T1D will die from some type of heart disease, with those diagnosed in childhood and women being the most at risk.
There are a lot of factors that increase the risk of vascular damage, stroke, and heart attack in people living with type 1. High blood sugars damage vascular tissue while dramatic swings in blood sugar and aggressive exogenous insulin use cause increased oxidative stress on cardiac tissue.
Strict blood sugar management, a healthy diet, and frequent moderate exercise are the most important steps you can take to decrease your risk.
According to the ADA up to 30% of diabetics suffer from some type of thyroid disorder, with hypothyroidism being the most common. Many thyroid disorders, such as Hashimoto’s disease, are caused by autoimmune action that results in the death of thyroid cells. People suffering from one autoimmune disease, such as type 1 diabetes, are at an increased risk of developing additional autoimmune conditions.
Signs of hypothyroidism include fatigue, dry skin, weight gain, and muscle weakness. Most endocrinologists test thyroid function in their T1D patients at least once a year. Typically, hypothyroidism is treated with synthetic thyroid hormone.
When a person suffering from celiac disease consumes gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, their immune system reacts by attacking the cells of the small intestine. Symptoms include digestive upset and irritability, but it is not uncommon for the disease to progress without any symptoms at all. If left unaddressed, celiac disease can lead to intestinal cancer and heart problems.
This rare disease is characterized by reduced function in the adrenal glands which results in insufficient levels of hormones like cortisol and aldosterone. Most cases of Addison’s disease are caused by autoimmune damage to the adrenal glands. The rate of this disease is higher in people living with T1D than in the general population.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease include extreme fatigue, weight loss, abdominal pain, and recurrent hypoglycemia in diabetics. Many people don’t know they have an issue until they experience the acute symptoms of an Addisonian crisis in which a person will suddenly become weak, confused, and experience dangerously low blood pressure. In most cases, emergency intervention is needed.
Sexual dysfunction is common in both men and women with type 1 diabetes.
Diabetic men are more likely than the general population to experience erectile dysfunction due to vascular damage and retrograde ejaculation due to nerve damage. Women also suffer from the effects of vascular and nerve damage in the genitals. It is estimated that up to a quarter of T1D women experience problems with vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, and difficulty becoming aroused.
Luckily, many of these issues can be avoided or sometimes reversed with tighter blood sugar control and strict diabetes management.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
It has long been known that polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can lead to type 2 diabetes, but more recent findings have shown that PCOS appears to be more common in type 1s than the general population.
Signs of PCOS include irregular periods, infertility, weight gain, and excess hair growth. High androgen hormone levels and enlarged ovaries are both clinical symptoms your doctor may check for if you believe you have PCOS.
Treatment usually includes weight loss and medications such as metformin and clomiphene.
Mastopathy, or hardened breast tissue, is a condition most commonly seen in women with type 1 or insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes.
It is not clear what exactly causes this condition, but it appears to be highly correlated with poorly controlled blood sugar. Premenopausal women who have lived with diabetes long term are the most likely to suffer from this problem.
In general, the hard breast lumps that result from mastopathy do not cause any issues and require no treatment. However, the discovery of the initial lump and that of all new lumps that form will require screening and biopsy to rule out breast cancer.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition that causes tingling, pain, and numbness in the arm and hand. While this syndrome occurs frequently in the general population, especially in those that work at a computer for a living, it occurs more often in type 1 diabetics.
T1Ds with diabetic polyneuropathy (DPN) appear to have a higher chance of developing CTS but even in patients without this disorder, there seems to be an increased risk. One study found that while about 2% of the general population has CTS, closer to 14% of diabetics without DPN suffer from it and a high 30% of diabetics with DPN have it.
Treatment of the condition usually involves the use of splints and physical therapy but may require surgery. Diabetics with DPN are less likely to find success in treating the condition with more conventional methods.
There are a number of skin disorders that can affect type 1 diabetics at a higher frequency, including bacterial infections, fungal infections, and general dry skin and itching.
There is also a long list of conditions that are found exclusively in diabetics. Diabetic dermopathy causes scaly patches on the skin. Diabetic blisters are burn-like blisters that erupt on the hands and feet. Necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum causes raised, dry, shiny patches on the skin. All of these conditions appear to be related to the changes to small vessels during repeated high blood sugars.
In most cases, bringing blood sugars under control can help reduce or eliminate these types of skin conditions. There are also some great products on the market geared toward diabetic skin health.
People living with diabetes are also at an increased risk of certain dental problems. The combination of dehydrating high blood sugars, neuropathy, and decreased blood flow to the gums increases the odds of gingivitis, mouth infections, and dry mouth.
While keeping your blood sugars under control is the first and most important step to preventing these types of dental issues, regular visits to the dentist are also important. A good dental hygiene routine that includes frequent brushing, flossing, and treatments for dry mouth can also make a big difference in oral health.