Type 2 Diabetes: Coping With the News

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

Learn how to control it, then find a support group.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

It's a tough diagnosis to swallow: You've got type 2 diabetes . You founder in a sea of unsettling, even frightening words -- glucose levels, blood testing meters, insulin, kidney disease, blindness, foot ulcers, amputation.

"It can seem overwhelming at first," Lawrence Phillips, MD, an endocrinologist with Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, tells WebMD. "Diabetes is a new world for most people. They are uncertain what the future holds for their health."

Diane Schafer, LDN/RD, is a certified diabetes educator at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans. She's counseled scores of patients. "Often they don't really hear what I say," she tells WebMD. "They're thinking, 'Why me? Why is God punishing me?'"

In today's medical world, type 2 diabetes is a manageable problem -- "it is not your fate," Phillips says. "You have the ability to control your destiny. This is a serious disease, it's a silent killer, and bad things can happen if we don't take care of it. But we know how to monitor the disease, and we're much better able to take care of it now. We know how to screen for and manage complications. The prognosis is very, very good."

In Denial

Yet anger is often the first reaction: "This should not be happening to me," one woman told Schafer. "I watch what I eat, I get regular exercise, I don't understand this." Unfortunately, if a father or mother had type 2 diabetes, their child has an increased risk of developing the disease.

Denial is common: When the local football coach was diagnosed, Schafer talked to him once -- but hasn't seen him since. Turns out, his mother had diabetes, began taking insulin, yet she went blind, Schafer says. "Just because his mother had those experiences, that doesn't mean he will, too. But if he doesn't come back, he won't learn what he needs to do."

Guilt, depression, and anxiety are rampant: "This is terrible," said one man to Schafer. "It will affect the rest of my life."

Schafer says she feels empathy; she developed diabetes during a pregnancy. Her dad has type 2 diabetes. "I could get it back tomorrow," she says.

But diabetes does not have to take over your life. With just a few lifestyle changes, it can be controlled, Phillips says. "It doesn't require hours of time every day."

Controlling blood sugar is Priority No. 1: "You have to check your blood sugar before you eat -- four, maybe five times a day. It takes about a minute each time," Phillips explains. "Taking a pill takes no time at all. Even if you need an insulin injection, that's less than a minute or two. You have to think about what you eat, but that will not require hours." Even regular exercise (like walking) takes half an hour maximum, a few days a week.

Ignore at Your Own Risk

Treatments for type 2 diabetes are light-years better than 40 years ago, even 10 years ago. "The medications are better, blood testing meters are better, it's not like it used to be," says Schafer. "I tell people, 'Bad things happen, but they don't have to happen to you.'"

Ignore medical advice -- but at your own peril. "If you don't take care of yourself, you'll be seeing your doctors again in a few years," she says. "You're going to be back with eye problems, kidney problems, burning and tingling of the feet and hands, in pain, suffering, and scared. You need to take care of it now."

If you feel anxious about all this, talk with your social worker, Schafer says. Some patients benefit from seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist. Some take medication for their anxiety and depression. Sometimes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) masquerades as anxiety, so it's important to have the problem addressed.

Also, find a diabetes support group, she suggests. "That's where people find the motivation they need. A support group gives a feeling of hope. People know each other like family. It's a wonderful thing. They get strength, support from each other. They help each other deal with this thing in their lives."

Published Aug. 24, 2004.

SOURCES: Lawrence Phillips, MD, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta. Diane Schafer, LDN/RD, certified diabetes educator, Ochsner Clinic Foundation, New Orleans.

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