Despite around 1 in 10 Americans living with diabetes, certain myths about the disease continue to exist. This could be why 1 in 4 people are unaware they have diabetes and why another 86 million people are currently “prediabetic”.
Dispelling diabetes myths will help those understand their condition as well as helping others around them understand exactly what having diabetes means. This is especially important for caregivers who are taking care of loved ones with diabetes, whether they’re a child or an elderly relative.
We’re going to go over 8 of the most common myths about diabetes so you can learn what’s true and what isn’t.
Myth 1: All Types of Diabetes Are the Same
Diabetes is a disease that affects the normal metabolism of sugar and carbohydrates, which results in dangerously high and low levels of glucose in the blood.
But there are two distinct subtypes of diabetes, type 1 and type 2, which are important to understand. These two types have different causes and treatment methods.
Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2, but it still affects over 1.25 million Americans. While it was previously referred to as “juvenile diabetes” because most people get their diagnosis as a child or an adolescent, Type 1 diabetes can affect anyone of any age, weight, race, or size.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces either little or no insulin and can be diagnosed with a blood test. Those who have type 1 diabetes are insulin dependent for life. To maintain proper blood sugar levels, they will need to administer insulin themselves since their body won’t produce it on its own.
Type 2 diabetes is the more common of the two with about 95% of people with diabetes diagnosed with it. While type 1 occurs when the body doesn’t produce insulin at all, type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can produce insulin, but it isn’t using it properly.
Those with type 2 diabetes aren’t necessarily insulin dependent. Diet, exercise, and medications usually manage this condition.
Myth 2: Diabetes Isn’t Serious
Diabetes leads to more deaths every year than both HIV and breast cancer combined. Diabetes can also lead to serious health complications, including:
- Nerve damage
- Kidney damage/disease
- Increased risk for heart attack/heart disease
- Increased risk of infection
- Skin issues
- Increased risk of Alzheimer’s/dementia
- Loss of limbs
These complications are essentially inevitable if diabetes is left untreated, unmanaged, or is treated as though it “isn’t serious.” Untreated or poorly managed diabetes can lead to fatalities as well.
Myth 3: People With Diabetes Can’t (and Shouldn’t) Exercise
The opposite is actually true: proper and frequent exercise can help people with diabetes lower blood sugar levels. Not to mention that exercise can improve overall health and keep you at a healthy weight.
Myth 4: Eating Too Much Sugar Causes Diabetes
While both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have to do with sugar (aka blood sugar and carbohydrate metabolism), that doesn’t mean eating sugar causes diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes has many potential causes ranging from environmental factors to genetics. The exact cause isn’t completely understood.
Type 2 diabetes has many risk factors including obesity, poor diet, genetics, and little/no physical activity. Perhaps that’s where the myth stems from: people associate being overweight with eating too much sugar.
But the sugar isn’t the cause of diabetes. The weight you gain from eating too much sugar could put you at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but it isn’t the cause of the disease.
Myth 5: Everyone With Diabetes Needs to Use Insulin
People who are type 1 diabetic are insulin dependent. However, type 2 diabetics don’t necessarily need to use insulin to manage their diabetes. Some type 2 patients do, but not all people with diabetes do.
Myth 6: Only Adults and the Elderly Get Diabetes
This myth likely stems from the fact that type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult-onset diabetes.” This is a misnomer: anyone of any age can develop diabetes, whether that’s type 1 or type 2.
While old age is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, it doesn’t mean people who are younger cannot get this diagnosis. In fact, the rate of diabetes diagnosis for young people has been steadily increasing over the years, which is thought to be the result of the obesity epidemic and poor dietary habits.
Myth 7: It’s Easy to Tell When Blood Sugar Levels Are Too Low or Too High
Certain symptoms do occur when blood sugar levels drop too low or go too high. But, they’re not obvious and they can be easily missed by both the diabetic and by caregivers.
That’s why it’s essential to be consistent in checking blood sugar levels throughout the day. You could feel fine but actually have a dangerously high blood glucose level. The only way to know your levels for sure is to test your blood.
Myth 8: If You’re Fit and at a Healthy Weight, You Can’t Get Diabetes
One of the biggest misconceptions is that only those who are overweight and unhealthy get diabetes, which probably stems from the media reporting on obesity and poor diet as some of the top risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
And while these two things do put you at a higher risk, anyone can get diabetes. Both a skinny young teenager and an overweight middle-aged man can get a diabetes diagnosis.
8 Diabetes Myths Debunked
You would think that such a prevalent and common disease would be better understood. But media portrayal and general misunderstandings have perpetuated diabetes myths that can harm diabetics, caregivers, and the loved ones around them.
Hopefully we helped clear up some of the false ideas about diabetes. This will help you understand and care for a diabetic loved one better, or perhaps care for yourself better as well.
Diabetes can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and memory issues, which we can help with. If you need help caring for an elderly loved one, don’t hesitate to reach out.