Diabetes: Fact or Fiction?

With diabetes rates unfortunately on the rise, so are the myths surrounding the disease. Anyone involved with diabetes patient care must be able to separate fact from fiction.  Below, are some of the common truths and misconceptions about diabetes.

Today, most patients with diabetes go on to live normal lives.
False. Per the American Diabetes Association, every year there are more diabetes related deaths than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Many are due to severe medical complications associated with the disease. For example, in 2010, hospitalization rates for heart attacks were 1.8 times higher among adults with diagnosed diabetes than those without diabetes.

More than 25% of diabetes cases remain undiagnosed.
True. According to The National Diabetes Statistics Report, 29.1 million people or 9.3% of the U.S. population have diabetes. In addition, 27.8% of diabetes cases, or 8.1 million people, are undiagnosed.

Once type 2 diabetes is treated, the condition will typically remain the same or improve.
False. Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. When first diagnosed, many people with type 2 diabetes can moderate their blood glucose levels with dietary changes, additional exercise, and oral medications. However, as time progresses, insulin production tends to decrease and insulin therapy may be required. The good news is that as long as sugar levels are kept at appropriate levels, patients with diabetes will remain relatively healthy.

Excess body weight is typically the cause of type 2 diabetes.
False. While excess body weight is a major diabetes risk factor, not all overweight people develop diabetes. Additionally, many sufferers are not overweight. Family history, ethnicity and age are risk factors, along with weight. Most people are unaware of these associations and may ignore diabetes symptoms. Type 1 diabetes is always an inherited disease, which typically manifests itself in childhood and has no association with weight.

Diabetes may lead to blindness.
True. Patients with diabetes are at risk for severe vision problems, including blindness. Blood sugar control, blood pressure levels, and genetics play a role in determining whether people with diabetes will develop blindness or other vision problems. Appropriate blood sugar control will significantly reduce the chance of vision deterioration.

All patients with diabetes must be treated with insulin.
False. While everyone with type 1 diabetes must use insulin, some people with type 2 disease can control it with a healthy diet and exercise. However, some may be required to supplement this with diabetes pills instead of insulin to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. The need for insulin increases as the disease progresses.

Patients with diabetes are at an elevated risk for flu and pneumonia.
False. However, patients with diabetes are less able to establish control over these illnesses.  They are almost three times more likely to die from flu and pneumonia than people without the disease. People with diabetes should get appropriate flu and pneumonia shots as an easy and effective precaution.

Patients with diabetes require a special diet for the rest of their lives.
False. Patients with diabetes need to follow a healthy meal plan, similar to the rest of the population. Once diagnosed, patients with diabetes will likely need to alter their food patterns because they may have had poor habits in the past. They will need to be conscious of the amount of sugar they consume, particularly in the form of sweet drinks and sodas. However, this is advisable for anyone trying to eat well.

Sugar-free foods are generally diabetes friendly.
False. Many sugar free foods are calorie-laden and not consistent with diabetic weight loss programs. They also may contain large amounts of carbohydrates, which break down into sugar. With diabetes on the rise, so are marketing efforts towards people with the disease, so be sure to carefully read labels.