Stop the Domino Effect

Imagine a long line of dominoes, standing tall. Now give the first one a teensy nudge. Click, click, click, click, click, click, click—they all tumble.

That's diabetes when left unchecked.

Diabetes isn't a single disease. It starts in the pancreas, a vital organ that, among other things, regulates insulin production. Insulin is a hormone that helps cells process and store blood sugar (or glucose) for energy—and your body needs a precise amount. People with diabetes have trouble regulating the hormone, and that can lead to a wide variety of health complications.

Type 2 diabetes in particular, the most common form of this disease, is linked to a variety of serious conditions, six of which we've highlighted here. Fortunately, it's manageable. If you eat sensibly, exercise, maintain a healthy weight and take medications regularly, you can control diabetes. And by controlling it, you minimize the risk of your own diabetes domino effect.

Heart disease. It's common for people who have diabetes to also have high blood pressure and high cholesterol—both of which are significant risk factors for heart disease. Diet and exercise are the first line of defense against these risk factors, and, for some people, medication is necessary, too.

Kidney disease. Over time, high levels of blood sugar can make the kidneys work too hard and lead to kidney disease. Regular kidney function tests are extremely important, because kidney disease can be treated when it's detected early.

Eye problems. People who have diabetes are more likely to develop glaucoma and cataracts. They're also at risk for diabetic retinopathy. These eye conditions can become serious, but they're treatable when found in their early stages, making regular eye exams crucial.

Erectile dysfunction. Many men who have diabetes can develop erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, when poorly controlled diabetes damages blood vessels and nerves in the penis. Fortunately, many treatments are available for ED.

Dental health issues. High glucose levels in saliva help bacteria grow. The bacteria attack tooth enamel, causing decay and contributing to gum disease. Daily brushing and flossing and regular visits to the dentist can keep oral health problems at bay.

Unhealthy body weight. When a person is overweight, the pancreas struggles with insulin balance and diabetes can be much harder to manage. Obesity also increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and arthritis, among other diseases.