Diabetes is a chronic illness, where the body can’t produce or properly use insulin, which we need in order to convert sugar into energy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are more than 100 million Americans living with diabetes today. Wanna know more about diabetes, where it comes from, how to support, and how to cope? Get the deets here.
We’ve all heard of diabetes, but some of it is skewed, misinformed and missing info. Unhealthy eating habits? Too much sugar? Some people may not really know how it happens. Some have even joked that if they eat too many treats, especially around the holidays when sweets are more prevalent, they might “get diabetes.” While someone can’t simply “get” diabetes by eating chocolate chip cookies, there are ways to increase your chances. But what is the actual process of how diabetes occurs?
Because the body needs insulin to turn sugar into energy, diabetes leads to high blood sugar, which is damaging to organs, blood vessels, and nerves. You can see why someone might think a sweet tooth can lead to getting this disease. It’s also important to know there are two types of diabetes, both with different prerequisites, coping techniques, and preventative measures.
Type I diabetes happens from the immune system mistakenly attacking the beta cells of the pancreas. As a result, little to no insulin is released into the body, so the sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy. According to the American Diabetes Association, about 5 percent of Americans have type I diabetes. An estimated 40,000 people will be newly diagnosed each year. Type I diabetes usually develops in childhood, but it can develop in adulthood. Type I also includes latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), which is a form of type I diabetes with slow onset, like type II. In order to treat type I diabetes, insulin must be used and meal planning is helpful to normalize blood sugar levels.
Type II diabetes happens when the body can’t use the insulin in the body or doesn’t make enough insulin, so the sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy. According to the American Diabetes Association, about 9.4 percent of Americans have type II diabetes. Type II diabetes more often occurs in adults. Depending on the severity of type II diabetes, it could be managed through physical activity and meal planning, but it could also require medication, like insulin, in order to control blood sugar.
A third and temporary type of diabetes is gestational diabetes, which happens when a pregnant woman has high blood glucose levels, but has never had diabetes before. Around 3-20 percent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, depending on their risk factors, and having gestational diabetes can increase the risk of continuing diabetes for both the mother and the child.
What happens if you have diabetes or high blood sugar and you don’t do anything about it?
Complications, my friend. That’s the short answer. The long answer is, you’ll have high blood sugar which can cause chronic kidney disease, heart attack, stroke, foot problems, amputation, anxiety, nerve damage, erectile dysfunction, and retinopathy (which can lead to blindness).
As you can see, these complications can be very serious and life-threatening, so it’s very important to manage blood sugar levels and get tested for diabetes.
How do I cope with diabetes?
Being diagnosed with diabetes can lead to a variety of emotions. Shock, denial, anger, fear, grief, and sadness are all common when first coming to terms with having a chronic disease. Be sure to speak to a professional or someone you trust about what you’re feeling. You can also find local event listings, opportunities and meetings in your community to learn more about diabetes and connect with other people living with it.
How do I help my friend or family member who has diabetes?
If you have a friend or family member coping and living with diabetes, they’ll need the right kind of support. Studies show that people are able to manage their diabetes better when they have support. You’re their “crew” and being there helps them to know they’re not going through it alone. But what do you do? What exactly is the “right kind of support” when someone you care about is dealing with a chronic illness? Here are some helpful tips from Everyday Health on how you can offer support:
DO be helpful.
DO NOT pester or nag.
“There’s often a very fine line between pushing and pestering,” says Lawrence Perlmuter, PhD, a psychologist at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago.
DO take an interest in their diabetes diagnosis.
DO NOT take control.
“If you’re constantly telling them what to do or repeatedly admonishing them, they’ll see it as a challenge to their control,” Perlmuter says. “A take-charge attitude is rarely the kind of diabetes help your loved one is looking for.”
DO ask how you can help.
DO NOT play doctor.
Are you a specialist in this field? If not, keep your mouth shut with the medical advice. You probably mean well, but you don’t know all the deets, and you could be offering advice that could harm more than help. However, asking them how you can help is… well, actually helpful. So do that instead.
DO offer to be a diabetes buddy.
DO NOT bring up horror stories.
Maybe your grandmother had type II diabetes and went blind. Maybe your friend had type I diabetes and had kidney problems. You might know a few people with diabetes, but it doesn’t help to bring up horror stories. Instead, offer your support. Part of managing diabetes is making healthy choices. Suggest a walk or going to restaurants that serve healthy meals. Offer to cook one for your friend or family member. Healthy lifestyle choices benefit everybody.
DO show you care.
DO NOT stare.
Needles can make some people queasy, but when you have diabetes, needles are a part of it. People with diabetes have to prick their fingers to test blood sugar, or give themselves insulin shots. If you’re squeamish about needles, put on a poker face and don't look too horrified. Turn your head if it makes you uneasy to watch, but just be subtle… it can be hard for people with diabetes to not feel self conscious when they feel like they’re being watched. However, showing a genuine interest in learning about diabetes and their day-to-day routine can be encouraging to people living with diabetes.
ALWAYS acknowledge that managing diabetes is work. Regardless of what type of diabetes, people with it must manage it 24/7. From watching how much they eat to taking medications and monitoring blood sugar, it can be stressful… which is something else they also have to manage. Encourage your friend or family member and let them know how much you appreciate them and all of their hard work.
Working with diabetes patients
When you have a diabetes patient, you obviously want to create the best treatment and care plan possible for them. The important thing is that you work with the patient and their family to develop a plan that is feasible for them, since their care will mainly be ongoing and up to them in the day-to-day activities. When you take the time to really understand the lifestyle of your patient, they have a better chance to continue their own care at home, managing their diabetes effectively.
This disease isn't showing any signs of slowing down. According to the CDC, the number of Americans with diabetes is expected to double or triple by 2050. Eating well, physical activity, and leading a healthy lifestyle can lower the risk of diabetes cropping up. it can also help control the condition of those who have diabetes already.
"These are alarming numbers that show how critical it is to change the course of type II diabetes," said Ann Albright, PhD, RD, director of CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation. "Successful programs to improve lifestyle choices on healthy eating and physical activity must be made more widely available, because the stakes are too high and the personal toll too devastating to fail."