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Busting 5 myths about diabetes

11/3/2016 by Dr. Ramona DeJesus


Despite its rapid rise among children and adults and coverage in the news, there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions about diabetes. To give you a better understanding about this disease, let's start by busting five myths: 

MYTH: Diabetes is not that serious of a disease.

Fact: Diabetes causes more deaths each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. It remains the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. and doubles the risk of having a heart attack. The good news is that good diabetes control can significantly reduce complication risks. 

MYTH: People always have symptoms of diabetes.

Fact: According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 29.1 million people or 9.3% of the U.S. population have diabetes. While 21 million people have been diagnosed, there are about 8.1 million people who are walking around with diabetes and don't know it. In Minnesota, approximately 466,638 people have diabetes; an estimated 126,000 do not know that they have it. 

Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes may develop slowly, and when they do develop, people may not recognize them right away because they are mild or vague. The telltale symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are increased urination, thirst and hunger. Other symptoms, including weight loss and fatigue, slow-healing wounds and blurred vision, typically occur later in the disease. If you're concerned, please discuss screening with your Care Team. 

MYTH: You have to be overweight or obese to develop diabetes.

Fact: While being overweight is a risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes, other factors such as family history, ethnic background and age also play a role. Most overweight persons never develop Type 2 diabetes and many of those with the disease are a normal weight or only moderately overweight. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented and is not associated with lifestyle factors. 

MYTH: People with diabetes can't eat sweets or chocolates and have to be on a special diet. 

Fact: A healthy meal for someone with diabetes is generally the same as a healthy diet for anyone - low in saturated fat; moderate in salt and sugar; based on lean proteins, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains and healthy fruits. Advertised diabetic or "dietetic" foods generally offer no special benefit and usually are more expensive. Sweets and chocolates can be part of a healthy meal plan, but portion size is the key, enjoy a very small portion and save them for special occasions. If you've been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you may want to work with the dietitian on your Care Team. 

MYTH: If you have diabetes, you can't lead an active life. 

Fact: Many long-term studies have shown the positive impact of regular physical activity on glucose control. Exercise can help your muscles take up and use glucose without relying on insulin. It also increases insulin sensitivity so your cells can use insulin better. People with Type 2 diabetes should make exercise part of their daily routine. Work with your Care Team to develop a program that is safe for you. This is especially important for people who already have complications from diabetes. 

Dr. Ramona DeJesus is a general internist in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine (PCIM). She completed her MD at the University of Florida and her residency in internal medicine at Mayo Clinic Rochester. Her interests include chronic disease management in primary care and population health management of high-risk patients.