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Dispelling Some Myths about Diabetes

separator Maybe you think you have a pretty good idea about what diabetes is—why people get it, who’s more likely to get it and what you have to do if you do get it.

On the other hand, maybe there are some things we can clear up for you. There are a lot of myths about diabetes, for some reason, but it’s important to know the truth.

Here’s a list of some common misunderstandings about diabetes:

Diabetes Myths

  • You only get diabetes if it’s in your family. It’s true that having a close relative who has type 2 diabetes increases your risk, but you certainly don’t have to have a family history of it to develop the disease yourself.
  • People with diabetes will do fine if they eat sugar-free desserts. When people have diabetes, they have to pay attention to their whole diet, balancing the amount of carbohydrate, protein and fat they eat. You can safely eat sugar as long as you maintain that healthy balance.
  • You can get diabetes by eating too much sugar. Being overweight increases your risk, as does having an inactive lifestyle, but eating sugar does not cause you to develop diabetes. If you eat a lot of sugary desserts and are overweight, then yes, you’re at increased risk. But not directly because of the desserts.
  • There’s such a thing as borderline diabetes. You either have diabetes or you don’t. Your blood glucose readings will tell you whether you have diabetes or not.
  • If you take pills or insulin, you can eat anything you want. No, you still have to focus on eating healthy foods in the right amounts and on getting regular exercise. By sticking to a healthy routine, you help your medicines to work well.
  • Insulin makes men unable to have an erection. Some men who have diabetes experience impotence, or the inability to have an erection. But that’s caused by nerve damage, which is a common complication of high blood sugar.
  • You can pretty much tell what your blood sugar level is by how you feel. Some people have no symptoms at all when their blood sugar is high or low. Others have the same symptoms, whether their glucose level is high or low. The only real way to tell what your level is is to test your blood.
  • Type 2 diabetes isn’t serious. This is one of the most dangerous myths of all! Type 2 diabetes needs to be kept in control through diet, exercise and, sometimes, medication. It it’s not controlled, type 2 can cause the same serious complications as type 1.

Know the risk factors
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), about 10.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes. But the ADA also estimates that about 5.4 million people have the disease and don’t know it. Many people don’t discover they have diabetes until they experience serious complications, such as kidney failure, heart disease, blindness or blood vessel and nerve damage leading to amputation. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Having a family history of the disease
  • Being over age 45
  • Being overweight
  • Not getting regular exercise
  • Being a member of the following ethnic and racial groups: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans
  • Having had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)

Get tested—early—if you’re at risk
The American College of immunology recently recommended early diabetes screening if you have any of the risk factors. Don’t wait! Get tested at age 30 to find out what the story is. The sooner you find out you have diabetes, the earlier you can start to get it under control and avoid serious complications.

American College of Endocrinology; M. Funnell, MS, RN, CDE. “10 Myths about Diabetes.”; National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders.
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