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Managing T1D Complications: A Personal Journey from Retinopathy to Frozen Shoulder

Diabetes is a chronic condition that touches every aspect of one's life, and the complications associated with diabetes can be far-reaching. From the risk of stroke and blindness to amputation and nerve damage, navigating and managing diabetes is a constant challenge.

For over 40 years, I've managed type 1 diabetes and now coach women in their diabetes journeys. Let me guide you through my personal story—from diabetes retinopathy 10 years after my initial diagnosis to an unexpected complication, frozen shoulder.

Fearing The Health Complications Associated with Type 1 Diabetes?

Join me as I share how faith, an active lifestyle, and resilience helped me navigate unexpected twists in my diabetes journey. My goal is to inspire and educate women facing similar challenges.

Diabetes Retinopathy

"I woke up seeing floaters." This was a sign of diabetic retinopathy due to uncontrolled blood sugar. The diagnosis came with a stark warning: go blind if I didn't get my blood sugars in better control.

My doctor, friends and husband all urged me to pay closer attention to my glucose levels. This health scare led me to become overly strict, calling 911 too often. I prayed for balance realizing perfection isn't necessary. Laser eye surgery, routine care and being more informed of the seriousness of this chronic disease has given me over 30 years of healthy eyes – a big relief!

4 Steps to Prevent and Treat Diabetes Retinopathy:

  1. Regular Eye Exams: Schedule regular eye exams with your eye doctor to monitor the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

  2. Manage Diabetes: Work closely with your endocrinologist to improve diabetes management. Good blood sugar control can slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

  3. Early Diabetic Retinopathy: If you have mild or moderate non proliferative diabetic retinopathy, immediate treatment may not be necessary. Your eye doctor will determine when treatment is needed.

  4. Advanced Diabetic Retinopathy: If you have proliferative diabetic retinopathy or macular edema, prompt treatment is essential. (May Clinic, May 2023.)

Remember that early detection, diabetes management, and timely treatment are crucial in preventing or managing diabetic retinopathy.

In my 50's and leading an active lifestyle, I began to notice a phenomenon that I would later come to associate with my diabetes as a gradual onset of tightness and a reduced range of motion in my shoulder joints. The year was 2016, and I can recall it vividly because of the persistent discomfort in my shoulders. This was already a challenging period as Hurricane Matthew had recently hit Florida, resulting in water damage to our home, and a four-month renovation process before we could return home.

Melissa Slemp standing in her kitchen with her diabetes tools

Unraveling the Frozen Shoulder and Diabetes Link

Needing help, I sought out a local physical therapist who eventually diagnosed me with frozen shoulder. What struck me as curious was that the potential link to my diabetes was never mentioned, leaving me in doubt about whether this knowledge might have influenced my treatment, or offered relief from the ongoing shoulder issues. As I grapple with this matter and continued pain, I find myself contemplating whether to persevere with waiting for my body to heal itself or the possibility of surgical capsular release.

Type 1 In Midlife Episode 24 with Megann Schooley

Listen to episode 24: How Women Over 40 Can Optimize their Health with Type 1 Diabetes of my Type 1 in Midlife Podcast, when I had the pleasure of speaking with Megann Schooley from Vighetti and Associates in St. Augustine, Florida.

Megann highlighted the prevalence of chronic diseases, the impact of type 1 diabetes on muscles and joints, and a particular focus on a condition that many of us might not be familiar with – frozen shoulder. During our conversation we delved into the impact of living with type 1 diabetes pertaining to joint discomfort and overall well-being, highlighting the challenges women over 40 faces when it comes to muscle and bone changes. Megann Schooley's extensive qualifications were also shared, emphasizing her expertise in physical therapy, sports, manual therapy, strength and conditioning, and exercise for aging adults.

Frozen Shoulder: What's in a Name?

Frozen shoulder, scientifically known as adhesive capsulitis, goes beyond the name. It's a condition where the shoulder feels as if it's turning into an ice block resulting in severe stiffness, and a significant reduction in range of motion. Interestingly, for women over 40, and especially those dealing with diabetes, the risk is elevated. Shockingly, around 30 to 40% of patients suffering from frozen shoulder have diabetes, and 58% are women.

Sugar, Collagen, and Diabetes: A Connection Worth Knowing

To understand why being a woman with diabetes increases the risk of frozen shoulder, we must delve into the process of sugar binding to proteins, collagen, and fat in the body. This binding leads to stiffness and pain, precisely what individuals with frozen shoulder experience. The good news is that while being a woman with diabetes might put you at a higher risk, you have control over your blood glucose levels.

Click here to read my blog, Nurturing Bone Health: Essential Guide for Midlife Women with Type 1 Diabetes to learn more about the importance of collagen and how to incorporate it into your diet.

Control What You Can: Prevention Over Treatment

Megann Schooley reminds us that while life presents many challenges, nothing is set in stone, and guilt should have no place in our health journeys. Whether it's the effects of aging or diabetes, the cumulative impact is substantial, affecting not only women with diabetes but people in general. The key to overcoming these diabetes complications is prevention over treatment.

When to Seek Medical Help

If you're experiencing discomfort or stiffness in your joints, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Begin by consulting a physical therapist who can guide you through exercises to enhance your range of motion. If necessary, the therapist may refer you to a medical doctor. Frozen shoulder is one of the few instances where some discomfort may accompany efforts to improve range of motion.

4 Key Strategies for Better Joint Health:

  1. Managing Blood Glucose Levels: Maintaining healthy blood glucose levels is pivotal for preventing muscle and tendon problems.

  2. The Power of Stretching: A simple daily stretching routine can go a long way, but don't forget the importance of mindful breathing during these stretches.

  3. Moderation in Exercise: Whether you're doing 80%, 20%, 70%, 30%, or 75%, something is always better than nothing. Even just a one-minute stretch can yield remarkable results.

  4. Stretching Before Bed: Nighttime stretching isn't just relaxing; it can also improve sleep quality by reducing endorphin levels.

Managing Arthritis and the Power of Movement

Arthritis, often leading people to seek pain relief from their general practitioners and receive pain medications, is a subject that deserves attention. Contrary to the traditional approach, physical therapists and fitness enthusiasts advocate for the idea that "movement is medicine." It's essential to understand that living with persistent pain, especially as you age beyond 40, should not be considered normal. Arthritis comes in two primary types, which we can take charge of: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Unlocking the Benefits of Strength Training

My strong belief in the efficacy of strength training has led me to develop a routine where I target every muscle group at least once a week. This practice is particularly beneficial for women over 40, as people with diabetes face an increased risk of fractures and slow bone healing. Research underscores a direct link between muscle strength and insulin resistance. While there's no "one size fits all" answer regarding which muscle groups to work together, it's crucial to maintain a diverse workout routine. Understanding the mind-muscle connection and the role of nerves in muscle contractions is vital. With just one to two strength training sessions a week, you can achieve significant positive results.

Use It or Lose It Posture

A study suggests that performing one set of an exercises three times with 15 repetitions is more effective than doing it multiple times a day. Prioritizing posture, mobility, strength, and confidence in your health journey is essential.

Here's a touching story from Megann about her mom, who defied her age with a remarkable feat. Simple exercises like push-ups and pull-ups, and taking the stairs does wonders for her body, enhancing mobility, function, and her overall quality of life.

Overcoming Diabetes Complications in Chronic Health

Overcoming anxiety linked to chronic conditions such as diabetes, is a vital part of your health journey. Whether you're dealing with health complications, like joint health, or retinopathy, remember you have the power to shape your path.

Maintaining balanced blood sugar and strong muscles is crucial for an active life, addressing two common health complications I discussed here.

Let my story inspire and guide you as we progress toward a healthier and more vibrant life.

Download my Thrive with Type 1 Diabetes After 40 guide for a simple action plan to start excelling in midlife while managing diabetes!

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Melissa sitting on stairs and doctor who is massaging someone's shoulder


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