Debunking common myths that put people at more risk
Nine-year-old Bryce Duncan was drinking lots of liquids, complaining of an upset stomach, and losing a lot of weight. The bathing suit his parents bought for him just four months earlier was falling off him. “He would say he needed to take a nap and his legs hurt,” his mom Brandy recalls.
At the time, his parents blamed his age, sports activities, and the hot Florida summer. But Bryce was experiencing more than normal thirst from the Florida heat. The son of Brandy and Shannon Duncan was suffering from Type 1 diabetes. When he complained his stomach felt like it was burning in July of 2008, Bryce landed at Lakeland Regional Medical Center with a blood sugar of more than 900. A normal reading is between 70 and 120.
“Bryce was extremely sick. I thank God that I finally started questioning him and went with my motherly instinct. We were lucky we didn’t let him go to sleep anymore that day. He probably would have went into a coma,” says Brandy, a Polk County firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who drives the fire truck on emergency runs.
The diagnoses caused dramatic changes initially. “The first 6 months, we were on a schedule and we were terrified, measuring everything, carrying insulin everywhere we went, because we didn’t have the insulin pump,” Brandy says.
Now Bryce uses a wireless insulin pump and he knows how to control his blood sugar with it. “We keep Gatorade on hand for any lows, water for the times he is thirsty, and crackers and healthy foods for when he wants to snack,” Brandy says. “He does have sweets, only in moderation, and he must bolus (which means give his dose of insulin for the carbs he eats.)”
His dad Shannon, deputy chief of the Winter Haven Fire Department, likens managing diabetes to a chess game, where you think ahead and make moves to control the game rather than letting it control you.
Diabetes affects close to 26 million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are three types: Type 1, an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas quits making insulin; Type 2, a more hereditary form, with age and weight increasing your predisposition; and gestational, a form which typically surfaces during the late stages of pregnancy.
Besides extreme thirst and tiredness, classic symptoms include changes in vision, tingling or numbness in hands or feet, very dry skin, sores that are slow to heal, and more infections than usual, health officials say.
With the rising number of folks who have diabetes, it’s likely you know someone with the disease. But their stories may have little bearing on your situation. In this article, Central Florida Health News Magazine looks at 10 myths about diabetes.
Eating sugar causes diabetes.
FACT: “It’s actually a disease process… Eating sugar isn’t a cause, other than eating sugary foods makes you fat (if you eat too much),” says Jamie Moore, a registered dietitian who teaches diabetes survival skills at the Lake Wales Medical Center. Moore adds that there is no evidence cutting sugars will preserve your pancreas. “The carbs [carbohydrates] are your body’s gasoline,” she says.
I can’t eat sugar because I have diabetes.
FACT: What is important is portion control. A small piece of cake on your birthday is okay if your blood sugar is under control, Moore says.
Once you start on insulin, you’ll be on it for life.
FACT: Type 2 diabetics who are overweight may be able to wean off insulin after dropping some pounds and exercising, Moore says.
Calories don’t matter. Or: I’ll never lose enough weight to make a difference with Type 2 diabetes.
FACT: Dieting isn’t an all or nothing proposition when it comes to managing diabetes.Those who lose a little bit of weight can improve their blood sugar levels, Moore says.
“It’s hard to lose weight. We stopped saying people should get to an ideal weight. Now [the advice] is get to a reasonable weight you can sustain,” says Ann S. Williams, Ph.D., a registered nurse at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.
Type 1 is juvenile diabetes and Type 2 is the adult-onset form of the disease.
FACT: Formerly regarded as an adult disease, Type 2 diabetes sometimes strikes children in elementary school. “The average age of people developing diabetes is getting younger,” Moore says.
Everybody with Type 2 diabetes undergoes the same treatment.
FACT: The American Diabetes Association is recommending new guidelines for managing the disease that take into account individual differences, including your symptoms, age, weight, gender, race, and lifestyle. The association is promoting personalized diabetes education.
“Educate yourself on the disease. It’s so crucial,” says Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the clinical diabetes center, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, N.Y.
Medication may be administered as a result of individual preferences. Some people would rather have a shot so they can eat at restaurants, Moore says, while others would rather change their diet than take a shot.
If you’re not obese, you’re not at risk for Type 2 diabetes.
FACT: Although being seriously overweight increases the likelihood you’ll develop diabetes, you also have to measure your waistline, Williams says. Fat that accumulates around your abdomen puts you at greater risk than fat stored in your hips or thighs, says Williams, a research associate.
If you were told you’re at high-risk for Type 2 diabetes, or if you recently developed it, there’s nothing you can do.
FACT: Not so, say the experts. “That person can certainly do a lot of lifestyle modifications to prevent it from happening, or delay it until much later,” Moore says.
Don’t underestimate the impact of exercise. “If you’re going to change one thing, change your activity very early in the disease. Adding physical activity can be very effective in managing diabetes,” Williams says.
Type 2 diabetes isn’t that serious.
FACT: At one time, type 2 diabetes was thought to be the less serious kind, when compared with Type 1, Williams says. “People would say they have ‘a touch of sugar.’ It’s diabetes. Don’t call it a touch of sugar. All diabetes is serious,” she says.
Downplaying your condition could prevent you from managing the disease, Dr. Zonszein cautions. If you’re told your blood sugar is high, it’s a reminder that something is wrong. “It’s time to make changes,” he says.
If you don’t feel bad, you don’t have to treat diabetes.
FACT: “It takes a while for people to feel bad,” Moore says. “Your body adjusts to that new level and it feels okay. Sometimes it has to go pretty high so you feel bad. Damage is happening.”
“This is a chronic disease. Patients need to know how to manage it,” adds Dr. Zonszein.
Get help with juvenile diabetes from Bryce’s Buddies Juvenile Diabetes Association, a non-profit organization formed by the Duncan family. For more information, or to donate, call (863) 585-6849.
story by CHERYL ROGERS and BEV BENNETT