You probably believe these myths about type 2 diabetes. Don’t.
Nearly 30 million Americans are living with diabetes—and about 7 million of those people don’t even know they have it. It could be because the signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes are often subtle, and they usually develop slowly over time. It may also be because many people aren’t aware of their risk, what really causes diabetes, or even how serious diabetes complications can be. Here, we separate fact from fiction and debunk common misconceptions about type 2 diabetes.
Myth: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes
“While diet plays a critical role in controlling blood sugars, it’s usually much more complicated than that,” says Minisha Sood, MD, an endocrinologist in New York City. Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or use insulin well. Type 2 diabetes occurs as a result of several factors, including lifestyle (poor diet, physical inactivity, and being overweight), insulin resistance, and genes.
Myth: Type 2 is a milder form of diabetes
You might have heard your grandma describe her diabetes as “just a touch of sugar,” or that it’s not as serious type 1 diabetes, which is treated with insulin from the get-go. The truth is that every case of diabetes should be considered serious. Type 2 diabetes is a major risk factor heart disease and other conditions like kidney disease, foot problems, and nerve damage. “Patients often don’t think this is the case, because they don’t feel unwell; they don’t feel the high blood sugar,” says Sonal Chaudhry, MD, an endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health.
Myth: Insulin is only for type 1 diabetes, not for type 2
“Not everyone with type 2 diabetes will need insulin, but many people will, and that’s just the nature of the progression of the disease over time,” says Dr. Sood. If a person with diabetes needs insulin, and is resistant to the idea of using it, complications may arise. “If we use insulin early on when it’s needed, we can maybe stave off the complications,” she says.
Myth: You’ll only get type 2 diabetes from an unhealthy lifestyle
Even people with a healthy lifestyle—eating well, keeping weight in check, and staying active—can still get type 2 diabetes (although most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese). Patients sometimes feel disappointed when they’re diagnosed with diabetes, because they think it was caused by lack of their own willpower, says Dr. Chaudhry. While maintaining a healthy lifestyle significantly reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes (learn the astounding benefits of exercise for diabetes here), factors you can’t control (like genes, family history, and ethnicity) also can play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes, she says.
The takeaway: Type 2 diabetes is serious, and anyone can get it. Whether you have diabetes or not, it’s important know your family history and the signs and symptoms—increased thirst or hunger, blurred vision, fatigue, numbness or tingling—so you can alert your doctor ASAP if you think you may be affected.
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When patients first learn
they have type 2 diabetes,
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the first thing they'll wanna know,
is it because they ate too much sugar?
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And the answer to that is, not exactly.
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While diet plays a critical role in
controlling blood sugars it's usually
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much more complicated than that.
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There are problems going on at the level
of the brain, and the muscle, and
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the liver, and the fat tissue, and
the intestines, and the kidney,
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and certainly in the pancreas.
Some misconceptions that
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people have about type 2 diabetes is
that it's a milder form of diabetes,
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that it's just a little bit of sugar.
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And we know that type 2 diabetes
increases your cardiovascular risk.
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So it is a disease to
be taken seriously but
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patients often don't think it is
the case because they don't feel unwell.
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They don't feel the high blood sugar.
When I encounter someone with that
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attitude, I try and shift away from
talking about blood sugar, and
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I try to talk about
what's important to them.
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Maybe not having Dementia
is important to them.
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Maybe keeping their kidneys
healthy is important to them, and
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their heart healthy.
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Those are concepts that people understand
a little more readily than blood sugar.
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And then we go back to
the blood sugar issue and
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we link together how controlling blood
sugar will help in those other areas.
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Not everybody with type 2 diabetes will
need insulin, but many people will, and
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that's just the nature of the progression
of the disease over time.
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If we delay insulin use because
someone is resistant to the idea,
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then the complications will follow.
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But if we use insulin
early on when it's needed,
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we can maybe stave off the complications.
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diabetes can still occur in
individuals who eat healthfully,
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maintain a normal weight, and exercise,
especially if they have risk factors.
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Patients sometimes feel disappointed when
they learn of a diagnosis of diabetes,
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because they do feel that it's associated,
it's a matter of will.
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And of course modifying your risk
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can lower your chance of developing
diabetes, but it's also heritable.
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It's also your family history.
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It's also your ethnicity,
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all these things play a role in
increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes.
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But they can continue to adhere to healthy
lifestyle measures to keep their blood
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sugars as normal as possible.
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Statistics About Diabetes. American Diabetes Association, 2017. (Accessed on January 5, 2018 at http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics)
Symptoms and Causes of Diabetes. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases, 2016. (Accessed on January 5, 2018 at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/symptoms-causes)
Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases, 2017. (Accessed on January 5, 2018 at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems)