November isn’t just a month dedicated to turkey and everyone’s favorite Christmas tunes resurfacing on the radio; it’s also National Diabetes Month (tipping my hat to all my fellow diabetics!). I’ve been living with type one diabetes for about eight years. I love having opportunities to clear up the myths and misconceptions about the disease and the distinctions between the various different types. A whopping 34.2 million people or 10.5% of the U.S. population live with some type of diabetes, though 7.3 million people don’t even know they have it yet (source). Whether you know someone who has it or you don’t, it’s important to understand what the disease is, what the signs are, and what information out there is just downright false.
Here are eight sweet facts about diabetes that you may not have known before.
- Many people have diabetes and are not yet aware of it. The CDC reports that there are more than 34 million people living with diabetes in the United States, but one in five people are unaware that they have the disease. In many cases, this is because the symptoms have not yet become severe or problematic enough for a person to seek treatment and receive a diagnosis.
- There’s a big difference between type one and type two diabetes. Type one diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your body begins attacking the cells that produce insulin, which is the hormone that keeps blood sugar levels stable. Type one diabetics can’t get rid of the disease with changes to their diet or exercise and can only be treated with insulin. Type two diabetes is much more common (90-95% of all cases) and occurs when the body can’t effectively use the insulin it’s creating, or it isn’t creating enough. Type two diabetics can treat and, in some cases, reverse insulin resistance through a combination of healthy lifestyle changes, medication, and insulin injections.
- There are more than two kinds of diabetes. Yes, there really are more types beyond just one and two. They’re not as common or widely recognized, so you probably haven’t heard of most of them. Some of the lesser-known types of diabetes include:
- Gestational diabetes- This type is experienced by women during pregnancy and can pose health risks to the mother and baby. Blood sugars in patients with gestational diabetes will usually restabilize once the woman gives birth. This affects up to 10% of pregnant women in the U.S. per year.
- Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY)- This is an inherited form of diabetes, similar to type one, except MODY is caused by a gene mutation rather than an autoimmune disorder. There are 11 distinctive types of this gene mutation, and therefore 11 different variations of the disease. Like with type one, most people are diagnosed with MODY at a young age.
- Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA)– This form of diabetes is often referred to as type 1.5 since it shares commonalities with both type one and two diabetes. It hasn’t been heavily researched and is often misdiagnosed as type two. Though LADA patients may not require insulin immediately following diagnosis, many will eventually become dependent on the synthetic drug down the line.
- The most common symptoms of diabetes are excessive thirst and excessive urination. These are usually the two most prominent symptoms people realize and what initially brings them to a doctor’s office to get checked out. Other symptoms of diabetes include unintentional weight loss, blurry vision, lethargy, slow-healing wounds, and excessive hunger (especially an insatiable craving for sweets).
- Diabetes is America’s 7th leading cause of death. I know- this isn’t the most optimistic fact, but it’s important that people don’t underestimate the seriousness of the disease. Many diabetics with poorly controlled blood sugars can experience a variety of complications, including vision problems, nerve damage, and cardiovascular disease. This is why it’s *so important* that signs of diabetes are detected early and that it gets treated aggressively. (source: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm)
- Diabetics are twice as likely to suffer from depression. According to various studies, people living with diabetes are more likely to battle mental health issues because of the added daily stress of managing a chronic illness. At the same time, this adversity can also provide a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. I like to say, in the words of my father and Kelly Clarkson, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Caring for diabetes can add some annoying obstacles to everyday life, but it has also helped me grow more responsible, independent, and have a greater appreciation for the amazing things human bodies can do.
- Diabetes technology is quickly advancing, but there is no cure. Prior to the birth of insulin in 1922, diabetics were told to simply eliminate sugar and other carbohydrates from their diets if they wanted a chance to survive. Before the creation of insulin, diabetics were expected to live just three years past their diagnosis. Today, diabetics have several new devices that can help them to manage blood sugar levels, and their life expectancies are increasing with time to meet that of the average population. Some of these new devices include continuous glucose monitors (I use one called a Dexcom) and insulin pumps.
- People with diabetes determine how well their blood sugars are being managed using a measurement called an A1C. Diabetics have to attend routine appointments with their endocrinologists throughout the year. Here they check what the patient’s A1C is, which tells you someone’s average blood sugar over the last three months. People without diabetes have an A1C of 4-5.6%, while diabetics are encouraged to keep that number below 7% (and even that requires meticulous monitoring and blood sugar control).
Diabetes isn’t something anyone should have to go through alone. Reach out to your diabetic friends and family, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about what they’re going through. Also, remember to be humble to each and every person you meet. You can’t always tell who is dealing with an invisible chronic illness, disease, pain, or trauma, but you can’t go wrong by giving out free kindness. We all know the world needs more of it, and that can start with each one of us.