It’s nice to have at least one side effect of diabetes that isn’t a burden.

I refer to the loss of hair, and hence of the annoyance of shaving, on the legs, arms, hands, feet and underarms.

Not that I bothered to shave most of the time anyway, and it’s only a symptom of a much more serious diabetic problem — lack of blood flow to the extremities. In fact, it is probably related to my diabetic retinopathy and some autonomic neuropathy. Like my heart rate not speeding up when I exercise.

So what are the possible complications?

The American Diabetes Association has a daunting list, but the main ones are:

Eye complications. I’m very aware of those!

Diabetes is considered a risk factor equal to having had a previous heart attack for cardiovascular problems.

Kidney disease.

Stroke – again, I’m personally acquainted with that.

Foot problems – a lot of diabetics wind up with amputations.

Gastroparesis – highly variable delay in stomach emptying, which makes it very hard to treat low blood sugar.

So what can you do about it?

Don’t get diabetes is the obvious answer, but what if it’s too late for that?

Try to keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible. That means checking your blood sugar frequently – probably a minimum of 4 times a day. I average more like 12 myself, even with a continuous monitor. It also means adjusting your insulin to the amount of food you eat. Carbohydrate counting is most accurate, but even then you have to figure out how much insulin you need to offset a given number of grams of carbohydrate. I went for years with a doctor telling me how much insulin to take and adjusting my food to match. He was prescribing too much insulin, and I gained weight.

Exercise helps, too. I have a stationary bicycle and a rowing machine set up in front of the television, and whenever I’m watching and not actually low, I’m exercising.

At least it’s possible to do something about tracking your blood sugar today. When I was diagnosed, 42 years ago, I got an occasional lab test – like every two or three years. And one shot a day of medium-acting insulin. Today we have not only blood glucose meters – all right, they do involve pricking your finger – but insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors. They’re not perfect by any means, but things have come a long way in 42 years.

Now if the hair loss would just extend to my chin ….

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