In the last 20 years the number of cases of diabetes in the UK has doubled undoubtedly due to the surge in obesity causing the rise of type 2 diabetes. But there is still plenty of misinformation out there and too many patients still seem to be in the dark when it comes to the truth about the condition. So on World Diabetes Day, here are things I wish my patients would stop believing:
- It’s ok, type 2 diabetes is the ‘mild’ one
This is very far from the truth. Both types of diabetes are incredibly serious. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes both cause the body to be unable to process sugar properly. They arise in different but both can shorten life expectancy and cause life-changing, distressing complications. Type 2 diabetes is a significant risk factor for other diseases such as heart disease and stroke, and therefore accounts for many deaths in the UK each year.
- Diabetes is JUST about blood sugar
Yes, it’s true that both types of diabetes involve sugar control and treating that to avoid dangerous changes in the blood. But diabetes is a disease that affects far more than just blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes causes severe damage to the eyes, the kidneys and the nerves leading to loss of sensation in the feet and even loss of limbs. Because of the effects on the small blood vessels within the body, Type 2 has a vast spectrum of effects from erectile dysfunction to dementia and it is still the leading cause of blindness in the UK.
- Type 2 diabetes only happens to ‘fat’ people
This is not actually the case. When you look at figures for type 2 diabetes only around 85% of cases will be overweight which means there are a fair few people developing it who are in fact slim. Not all overweight people develop type 2 diabetes and there are other risk factors people should know. Family history, ethnicity and being over 45 are all risk factors and you are also at risk if you have a sedentary lifestyle or suffered with diabetes during pregnancy.
- Type 2 diabetes is the late-onset one
We used to talk about diabetes in terms of “late-onset” as type 2 certainly seemed to be a disease that people developed in older age. Sadly this is no longer the case and as the childhood obesity crisis grows, so do the number of young type 2 diabetics.
- Type 2 diabetes only happens to people who eat lots of sweets
Type 2 diabetes develops in people who are overweight or who have the other risk factors such as Asian origin or family history. It doesn’t matter whether obesity is from sweet foods, savoury foods or a lack of exercise – any way it developed is still a risk factor for the condition.
- Type 2 diabetes is the diet-controlled one
This is partially true but dangerous in terms of belittling the severity of the condition. It can be true that the earlier stages of type 2 diabetes can be well managed, and dare I say even reversed, by excellent diet control. A low GI diet can stabilize blood sugar changes and control the condition very well. However, strict diet control is not easy and takes a lot of willpower, education and motivation. Most type 2 diabetics will need medication: not injecting insulin but tablets to control blood sugar. This is no easy ride: the tablets come with side effects and complications of their own.