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Health Center Today, November 5, 2009

Diabetes Myths and Misconceptions Still Exist

By Chris Kaminski

The seriousness of diabetes may be well known, yet the number of people being diagnosed with the disease continues to increase. Diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem so harmless. Annually the month of November is designated as American Diabetes Month® as a way to raise awareness about the seriousness of the disease that can lead to potentially life-threatening complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and amputation.

Americans earned a failing grade on diabetes awareness, based on survey results recently released by the American Diabetes Association. In general, Americans only earned a 51 percent rating when asked a series of questions about a disease so common that it strikes every 20 seconds. Results indicated that many diabetes myths and misconceptions still exist indicating that individuals have a very limited understanding of the basic facts about diabetes.

“Quite often we hear people say, ‘I have borderline diabetes’ or ‘I have a touch of sugar,’” says Jean Kostak, UConn Health Center diabetes education program coordinator. “It is important for patients to talk with their health care professional about what this really means. Whether the diagnosis is diabetes or pre-diabetes, education is critical.”  The UConn Health Center offers several diabetes education programs, including Diabetes Self-management, Meal Planning and Carbohydrates, and New to Diabetes Care workshops. Attendees are encouraged to bring their partner or support person to the sessions. “Once diagnosed, diabetes is lifelong, but it is controllable,” Kostak says. “We have group and individual classes here in Farmington and at the UConn offices in West Hartford, East Hartford and Simsbury. They’re taught by dietitians and nurses.”

There are three major types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 which results from the body’s failures to produce insulin. This type of diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was formerly known as juvenile diabetes.
  • Type 2 which results from the body not producing enough insulin (insulin deficiency) or the cells ignoring the insulin produced (insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, and is becoming more common in obese children.
  • Gestational diabetes which occurs in pregnant women who have never had diabetes before but who have high blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

Recent studies indicate that the early detection of diabetes symptoms and treatment can decrease the chance of developing the complications of diabetes. “Everyone should be aware of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes,” says Kostak. “Individuals who are overweight, living a sedentary lifestyle, and over the age of 45 should consider themselves at risk for the disease. African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and people who have a family history of the disease are also at an increased risk."

Additionally, there are an estimated 57 million Americans who have pre-diabetes. Those with pre-diabetes have blood glucose levels higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss and increased physical activity can help delay or prevent the onset of the disease.