Diabetes and vascular issues often seem to go hand in hand. Yet, while diabetes can certainly contribute to circulatory problems, the relationship between these two medical issues is nuanced. Here’s a closer look at how diabetes affects the health of your veins and arteries.

How Does Diabetes Affect the Vascular System?

Diabetes can exacerbate varicose veins and other vascular insufficiencies, though it doesn’t actually cause these conditions. Despite not being causally related, however, these conditions do share risk factors and could become more dangerous when in combination together. 

Specifically, diabetes can affect blood flow. In type 2 diabetes, the body cannot process glucose (sugar) properly, so glucose accumulates in the blood. High blood glucose levels can allow fatty deposits to develop in the blood vessels, which can cause hardening and narrowing that restricts blood circulation. This is also seen in peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Several of the risk factors for PAD and type 2 diabetes are the same. These include being overweight or obese, being physically inactive, and being middle-aged or older. While having one of these conditions doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop the other, there is a chance they could coincide.

If diabetes progresses without proper blood sugar control, blood flow could diminish, resulting in nerve damage. Conditions like PAD and varicose veins can also negatively affect circulation in the legs and feet. It’s therefore important to address both diabetes and vascular issues, as allowing these conditions to go uncontrolled increases the risk of complications like swelling and infection.

The legs and feet are common sites for issues of diabetes-related circulatory problems, mainly because they’re furthest from the heart and circulation tends to be poorest in these areas. 

But there are other harmful circulatory complications that can result from uncontrolled diabetes, as well. For example, diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage, tends to start in the lower extremities, but can also travel to your hands and arms. Diabetes can also cause the tiny blood vessels in the eyes to become damaged in a condition known as diabetic retinopathy, impacting your vision. Finally, it can also affect blood vessels in your kidneys, preventing them from working properly.

How Can You Promote Vascular Health with Diabetes?

Fortunately, there are ways to promote circulatory health even if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. “Regular exercise stimulates blood flow,” recommends Dr. Jones, “and is one of the best ways to improve circulation.” If you’ve been sedentary for some time, your diabetes care team can work with you to develop a walking plan with proper footwear to prevent any issues with your feet.

In addition, smoking cessation is strongly encouraged for people with diabetes and/or circulatory conditions. Smoking restricts blood flow, which only exacerbates problems for people who already have circulatory issues.

Of course, you should also be following your diabetes self-care plan, which encompasses all the steps you take to manage your diabetes. This may include blood sugar monitoring, follow-up visits with your provider, lifestyle changes, and medications such as insulin.

In addition to these tactics, you can address circulatory issues and prevent possible complications by pursuing any necessary vascular treatments. If you have diabetes and are worried that you might have PAD, or another vascular-related issue, schedule a consultation by calling (770) 423-0595 or connect with us online