Without proper care, diabetes can lead from one complication to another
Imagine a long line of dominos, 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 is a disease that has the potential to cause a negative effect on every organ if not well managed,” says Angelo Capricchione, MD, an endocrinologist, and diabetes and thyroid expert at Bingham Memorial Hospital. It involves the pancreas, he explains, 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 who either do not produce insulin (type 1 diabetes) or have trouble regulating the hormone (type 2 diabetes) can lead to wide variety of health complications.
Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of this disease, is linked to a variety of serious conditions, seven of which we’ve highlighted here. Fortunately, it’s manageable. If you eat sensibly, exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and take medications regularly, if necessary, you can control diabetes. And by controlling it, you minimize the risk of your own diabetes domino effect.
1. Heart Disease
It’s common for people with diabetes to also have high blood pressure and high cholesterol—both of which are significant risk factors for heart disease, says Dr. Capricchione. Diet and exercise are the first line of defense against these risk factors, and, for some people, medication is necessary, too.
2. Kidney Disease
Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage the kidneys and lead to kidney disease. Regular kidney function tests are extremely important, because kidney disease can be treated when it’s detected early.
3. Eye Problems
People with diabetes are more likely to develop glaucoma, cataracts, and damage the retina. All these eye conditions can become serious, leading to decreased eyesight or possible blindness. But they’re treatable when found in their early stages, making regular eye exams crucial to prevent blindness.
4. Erectile Dysfunction
Many men with diabetes can develop erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, when poorly controlled diabetes damages blood vessels and nerves in the penis. “As high levels sugar travels through the body this causes damage the blood vessels that feed the organs,” says Dr. Capricchione. Fortunately, many treatments are available for ED, including improving blood sugar control.
5. Dental Health Issues
Many natural bacteria reside in the mouth, including saliva. Bacteria loves sugar and reproduces at a higher rate with uncontrolled glucose (sugar) levels. The bacteria can 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.
6. Unhealthy Body Weight
When a person is overweight, the pancreas struggles with insulin balance. The result? A higher risk of type 2 diabetes. And an unhealthy body weight can make diabetes and the other health conditions we are discussing much harder to manage, says Dr. Capricchione. Obesity also increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and arthritis, among other diseases.
7. Mental Health
Diabetes has been linked to depression. According to Dr. Capricchione, people with diabetes have a higher rate of depression.
“Living with diabetes isn’t easy,” says Dr. Capricchione. “It’s important when you have a chronic disease that you think about strategies for coping, such as talking to someone, gaining the support of loves ones or volunteering/working with an organization to improve your diabetes and quality of life, which I find has been extremely helpful for many of my patients.”
Depression may also contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, she adds. People who are depressed are often less active, don’t tend to eat healthy and may be under stress—all risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Angelo Capricchione, MD, is a fellowship-trained endocrinologist at Bingham Memorial Hospital, and is board certified in the treatment of osteoporosis, diabetes, and thyroid disorders. If you think you’re at risk for diabetes, need a screening, or would like to discuss the management of your diabetes, please schedule with Dr. Capricchione’s at (208) 785-3865. He is always welcoming new patients in Blackfoot and Pocatello.