Diabetes Myths


Myth: Diabetic patients are not allowed any sugar.

Fact: Adherence to a diabetic diet is an important aspect of controlling elevated blood sugar in patients with diabetes mellitus. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has provided guidelines for a diabetic diet. The ADA diet is a balanced, nutritious diet which is low in fat, cholesterol, and simple sugars. The total daily calories are evenly divided into three meals. In the past two years, the ADA has lifted the absolute ban on simple sugars. Small amounts of simple sugars are allowed when consumed with a complex meal. A diabetic diet can be customized to suit each patients preferences, and a nutritionist can help with this.

Myth: All cases of diabetes are the same.

Fact: There are two major types of diabetes mellitus, called Type 1 and Type 2.

  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus is also called insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), or juvenile onset diabetes mellitus. In type 1 diabetes mellitus, the pancreas essentially releases no insulin at all, and the patient relies on insulin medication for survival. Type 1 diabetes tends to occur in young, lean individuals, usually before 30 years of age, and the cause is most often secondary to an autoimmune destruction of the beta cells in the pancreas. Approximately 10% of the patients with diabetes mellitus have type 1 diabetes, and the remaining 90% have type 2 diabetes mellitus.

  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus is also referred to as non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), or adult onset diabetes mellitus (AODM). In type 2 diabetes, patients can still produce insulin, but do so inadequately to meet their body's demands. The vast majority of these patients have insulin resistance, and require higher than normal insulin levels to maintain their blood sugars in the normal range. Once their bodies can no longer cope with this demand, type 2 diabetes develops. Type 2 diabetes mellitus occurs mostly in individuals over 40 years old, and is also known as adult onset diabetes mellitus. The incidence of type 2 diabetes increases with age. Unlike type 1 diabetes mellitus, the majority of type 2 diabetic patients are obese. Type 2 diabetes mellitus also has a strong genetic tendency.

Myth: Diabetes is rare in the United States.

Fact: Diabetes mellitus affects 13 million people (6% of the population) in the United States. Over 5 million of these people have the disease but do not know it. The direct and indirect cost of diabetes mellitus is $98 billion per year in the United States alone. It is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer, and is a major risk factor in the development of heart disease, a major cause of blindness, kidney disease and amputations.

Myth: There are no early symptoms of diabetes.

Fact: The early symptoms of untreated diabetes mellitus are related to elevated blood sugar levels, and loss of glucose in the urine. High amounts of glucose in the urine can cause increased urine output and lead to dehydration. Dehydration causes increased thirst and water consumption. The inability to utilize glucose energy eventually leads to weight loss despite an increase in appetite. Fluctuations in blood sugars can also lead to blurring of vision early in the course of diabetes.

Myth: The only form of treatment for diabetes is insulin.

Fact: Type 1 diabetes mellitus is treated with insulin, exercise, and a diabetic diet. Type 2 diabetes mellitus is first treated with weight reduction, a diabetic diet, and exercise. When these measures fail to control the elevated blood sugars, oral medications are used. If oral medications are still insufficient, insulin medications are considered.

For more, please visit the MedicineNet.com Diabetes Mellitus Center.

Medical Editor: Ruchi Mathur, M.D.

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Last Editorial Review: 8/13/2002