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November 9, 2006

Diabetes epidemic: Dispelling common myths

Linda Siminerio, executive director of the University of Pittsburgh Diabetes Institute, outlined a half-dozen myths about diabetes in her Oct. 26 talk about the worldwide diabetes epidemic.

• Myth No. 1: “Borderline diabetes” or having a “touch of sugar” is less serious than having diabetes. Siminerio said that these terms are outdated and that in reality, impaired glucose tolerance (a fasting glucose level of 100-126) is “pre-diabetes.”

“People in this category are already having effects to their heart and blood vessels,” she said, urging listeners to be their own self-care advocates. About one-third of people with pre-diabetes don’t know they have it, she said, adding that some won’t find out until they land in an emergency room with a heart attack.

• Myth No. 2: Doctors are the experts who know all that’s needed to know about diabetes. “People make decisions 24/7,” said Siminerio, noting that diabetes is a lifestyle disease. Putting mayonnaise on that sandwich, using butter instead of low-calorie cooking spray to fry the morning’s eggs or choosing to watch television instead of going for a walk all are small choices that can add up to make a difference in one’s diabetes risk. While support from a team of medical professionals is needed, “Only the person who lives with it can be the expert,” she said.

• Myth No. 3: Diabetes control should be a person’s highest priority. That goal, Siminerio said, can be unrealistic given that other aspects of life — an impending divorce or instability in one’s workplace, for example — also commend attention. Siminerio said a good support team of medical experts may help a person fit diabetes management into his or her lifestyle.

• Myth No. 4: Diabetics bring the disease upon themselves.

While choices make a difference, diabetes is caused by a complex combination of factors. “You certainly shouldn’t be blamed for it,” she said.

• Myth No. 5: Type 2 diabetes is not serious until you need insulin or have complications.

• Myth No. 6: People should listen to their care providers because of their status. “You and your family know best,” Siminerio said. While doctors and nurses are important in helping people with diabetes manage their care, proper self-management depends on knowledge and patients need to educate themselves.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 6

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