The word diabetes often evokes powerful associations and strong feelings, depending on your personal experience. In the world, almost 400 million people have diabetes, and to help us all focus on better prevention and treatment, the United Nations has designated Nov. 14 as World Diabetes Day. Currently, diabetes affects 25.8 million people in this country, and it is estimated that there are an additional 7 million people in the U.S. with diabetes who have not been diagnosed. The total cost of diabetes in 2012 the U.S. was $245 billion.
There is much to talk about when it comes to diabetes, but as a professional working with diabetic patients, I want to use this opportunity to dispel some of the many myths that surround diabetes.
Myth No. 1: There are only two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.
Truth: Diabetes is a group of disorders that cause too much sugar to accumulate in the blood. Our bodies need sugar (glucose) as the “fuel” for our cells to work and live. But sugar cannot enter cells without the help of insulin. In some types of diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin. In other types of diabetes, the body makes insulin, but it does not work properly. There are different causes and combinations of these two factors, which make for individual variations of diabetes rather than just two simple types. But whatever the cause, when a person has diabetes, sugar builds up in the blood instead of getting into the cells, where it belongs. Too much sugar circulating in the blood for long periods of time can result in complications.
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Myth No. 2: Being diagnosed with diabetes means you will automatically develop complications.
Truth: When a person is diagnosed early and they learn to keep their blood sugar levels within their “normal range,” they minimize the chance of complications, such as vision, foot, kidney and heart problems.
Myth No. 3: If you are diabetic, you cannot eat sweets or carbohydrates.
Truth: Sweets can be eaten in small amounts on special occasions, but they should part of a healthy meal plan and combined with exercise. Carbohydrates are foods such as cereals, rice, breads, pasta, and starchy vegetables (potatoes and corn) that are broken down in the body into glucose and can be eaten but in moderation. Don’t try to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet altogether; remember, our cells need glucose to live.
Myth No. 4: If someone with diabetes has high blood sugar, it is because they had something “bad” to eat.
Truth: Keep in mind that high blood sugar is not only a result of the food we eat; it can result from stress, not sleeping well, certain medications, illness, etc. That is what makes diabetes a personal disease. Every person with diabetes is different and needs to have a specialized plan of care that revolves around that person’s “type” of diabetes and how he or she lives.
Early diagnosis and treatment are important in preventing complications; knowledge is power. Talk with your health care provider about your risk factors for diabetes. If you are experiencing symptoms of diabetes, such as extreme fatigue and/or thirst, blurred vision, numbness or tingling in the feet, increased hunger with weight loss, frequent infections or frequent urination, schedule an appointment for an evaluation. For more information, log on to mountnittany.org/diabetes or diabetes.org.