Don White, 68, a retired science teacher from upstate New York, first suspected he had type 2 diabetes when he was 45 years old and his school held a health fair for students and teachers. A simple prick of his finger to test for high blood sugar -- a sign of diabetes -- revealed some unexpected news.
"My numbers were way above normal," says White. "In a matter of days, and a couple of doctor's appointments later, I found out I had type 2 diabetes."
Does the light touch of a bed sheet make your feet burn? Does your heart sometimes race when you’re resting? Do you have problems with sexual arousal?
As different as these symptoms are, they can all have the same cause: diabetic nerve damage, also known as diabetic neuropathy. About half of people with diabetes develop nerve damage. The two most common forms are:
peripheral neuropathy, which affects the nerves that serve the farthest reaches of the body, such as the legs and hands;
White and his family were surprised by the diagnosis. He was a healthy guy, ate well, and exercised regularly. If he felt OK, did he really need to manage the disease?
For many people, like White, the words "you have diabetes" aren't easy to hear, and denial can quickly take over -- especially if you don't "feel sick. Sticking your head in the sand and hoping it goes away, however, isn't the answer.
Experts explain to WebMD why diabetes denial can set in and what the risks of ignoring it can mean. They also offer some practical first steps to move from denial, to acceptance, to making important life changes so you can manage your type 2 diabetes and get on with your life.
Denying Type 2 Diabetes
People living with type 2 diabetes have blood sugar -- or glucose -- levels that are above normal because their bodies don't produce enough of the hormone, insulin, that converts sugar into energy. Instead, sugar just builds up in the blood, starving cells of energy and causing damage to nerves and blood vessels as time progresses.
Early on, when these changes are happening in your cells, you might not notice the diabetes symptoms in your day-to-day life, which is one of the reasons why someone might ignore the subtle signs and hope they go away.
"One of the reasons why people often deny having type 2 diabetes is because their symptoms are so minor," says Richard R. Rubin, PhD, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University. "Maybe they don't have a lot of energy, or they get up frequently in the middle of the night to urinate ... they feel like they can live with these symptoms and get away with it."
Good to Know is a new feature that allows members of the community to answer questions from WebMD experts, doctors, staff, and other community members. We're testing this new feature and we'd like your feedback.