Increase in percentage of diabetic disabilitiesThe disabled are often handicapped because of traffic accidents and industrial accidents, but the increasing number of disabled in Korea is not because of traumatic accidents but due to diabetes.
According to reports from the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, in 2000, the causes of becoming newly handicapped were 71 percent from accidents and 27 percent from diseases or disorders. Research last year showed the number of people handicapped because of diseases had increased to 38 percent.
If not managed well, diabetes may cause severe consequences. Diabetic retinopathy is a deterioration of the small blood vessels that nourish the retina and may cause blindess. Diabetic nephropathy is a complication of long-term diabetes that affects the kidney’s filtering system, which filters waste products from the body. Diabetics also often experience nerve damage or neuropathy, particularly in the feet and legs.
Macrovascular disease can also occur when blood vessel walls thicken and become hard, which may even result in the flow of blood being blocked. The shortage of nutrition and oxygen delays the repair of the vessels and nerves and if the damage is severe, parts of the body may become infected and even rot. Because nerve damage causes a loss of sensation, injuries, particularly those on the feet, often go unnoticed and untreated.
The weaker immune systems of diabetics can also aggravate symptoms.
“When viruses penetrate the bones, sometimes osteomyelitis can occur and legs need to be amputated,” said Dr. Kim Gwang-won at the internal secretion medicine department at Samsung Medical Center.
One third of diabetes patients suffer peripheral neuropathy and vascular diseases.
“In 2003, 61 out of 68 patients who had leg amputation surgery had vascular diseases such as diabetes,” said Dr. Kim Jae-young at Eulji General Hospital.
The best way to prevent such problems is to keep the blood vessels healthy. The right diet, exercise and medications can help keep blood sugar levels normal and any high blood pressure and high cholesterol should be treated as quickly as possible.
Timing of treatment is also important.
“When there are wounds on the feet, patients waste their time applying cream to the wounds,” Dr. Kim Gwang-won said.
Even if the symptoms appear serious, patients need to be positive and seek medical help.
“Many patients give up on treatment, thinking the only treatment available is amputation. In a case of initial infection and necrosis, inflammation control, resuming blood circulation and foot rehabilitation lower the rate of amputation to 1 percent,” Dr. Kim Jae-young said.
Prevention is essential. Diabetics must check for wounds and inflammations on their feet, wash them often with warm water and dry them thoroughly. The sole and the entire foot should be massaged with lotion. Hardened skin should be removed with a doctor’s help.
Diabetics should also wear airy socks and comfortable shoes.
Exercise can also improve help blood circulation.
If a diabetic experiences swelling that does not go away for 24 hours, they should seek medical help. They should also quit smoking and never apply heat to their feet, including going to a jjimjilbang or steam room.
by Ko Jong-kwan
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