There are 30 million people in the United States living with diabetes, but one in four do not know they are living with this condition. In addition to those millions, another 84 million adults, teenagers and children have prediabetes, but 90% are unaware. These numbers are what motivate UT Health East Texas Certified Diabetes Educators Audrey Hall and Lara Dove to bring awareness to diabetes and clear up any myths that surround this condition.
Read Hall and Dove’s responses to the most common diabetes myths below.
First, a brief explanation of diabetes -
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how your body reacts to the sugar in your broken down food. After you eat, your blood sugar levels rise and your pancreas then releases insulin, which makes it possible for sugar in the cells to be used for energy. If you have diabetes, your body either cannot produce enough insulin or isn’t using it properly. When this happens, your blood sugar levels remain too high, eventually leading to serious health issues.
Myth 1: Only children get Type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes was formerly referred to as juvenile diabetes because it was only diagnosed in children. However, we now know that type 1 diabetes can be diagnosed anytime in someone’s life. Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) is a disorder in which, despite the presence of islet antibodies at diagnosis of diabetes, the progression of autoimmune β-cell failure is slow. This type affects 5% of those with diabetes. Individuals with type 1 will have to take insulin every day. This type cannot be prevented.
Myth 2: My family has diabetes, so I’m going to have diabetes.
No one in my family has diabetes, so I don’t have to worry about getting it.
If someone in your family has diabetes, you do have a higher risk to develop diabetes. However, if you do not have anyone in your family with diabetes, you could still be diagnosed with diabetes or have other risk factors. Family history is one risk factor to consider, but not the only one.
We know that we can prevent and/or delay the development of type 2 diabetes. If you have family members with diabetes, your risk is higher, but focus on what you can do to change your future.
Myth 3: I’ll know if I have diabetes.
While there are symptoms of high blood sugars, many times you won’t notice anything different until your blood sugars are very high. Symptoms might include excessive urination, fatigue, blurred vision, excessive thirst or unintentional weight loss. However, you might contribute these symptoms to stress, not sleeping well or blame it on the weather. If you are at risk for diabetes, it’s important to get screened because it allows your doctor to recognize, monitor and treat you as early as possible. This can help reduce complications long term.
Myth 4: Only obese people get diabetes.
While 85% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, it can still occur in individuals with a healthy weight. Obesity is not the only risk factor for diabetes. Race, sedentary lifestyle, family history or other chronic diseases can increase your risk of diabetes.
There is too much of a stigma with type 2 diabetes. It is often seen as the person’s fault because of their lifestyle choices. While it is certainly true that a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits increase your risk, it isn’t the whole story. Blaming a patient for the disease doesn’t help.
Diabetes doesn’t discriminate. It affects all ages and races.
Myth 5: Insulin is a cure for diabetes.
Unfortunately, we do not have a cure for diabetes. However, working with your doctor, diabetes educator and healthcare team can help you manage the disease. Insulin is a hormone made in the body by the pancreas to lower blood sugar. Insulin is a life-saving medication available to help lower blood sugar just like the hormone produced by your body. Not everyone with diabetes must be on insulin, as there are oral medications available for individuals with type 2 diabetes.
Myth 6: If I take insulin, I don't have to worry about what I eat.
Eating healthy is important for everyone. People living with type 1 and type 2 are encouraged to eat a balanced diet to support overall health. Excessive amounts of insulin to balance out sodas, junk food or large portions will lead to weight gain. The food you eat impacts your overall health, not just your blood sugar!
Staying active with diabetes is important too and you’ll get more benefits than just lowering blood sugar levels. Getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week will lower blood pressure, burn calories, improve mood and improve sleep.
Myth 7: Having diabetes is going to ruin my life.
Managing diabetes is a 24/7 job, 365 days a year. There are no vacations from this disease, so it can be overwhelming at times. Find support in the community to give you someone to talk to about the challenges you face. Talk with a Certified Diabetes Educator to develop an individualized diabetes care plan. If you are feeling distressed or overwhelmed because of your diabetes, tell your healthcare provider. You are not alone!
You also can read through trusted websites for organizations such as the American Diabetes Association, the CDC and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
For more information on diabetes education services at UT Health East Texas, visit https://uthealtheasttexas.com/services/diabetes-care.