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Are You in Diabetes Denial?

Denying you have type 2 diabetes won't make it go away. Here's how to accept your diagnosis, manage your disease, and get on with your life.

Denying Type 2 Diabetes continued...

Symptoms of diabetes can include:

Another reason people ignore type 2 diabetes is that acknowledging the disease means considering its possible consequences.

"People deny it because they are told by their health care provider in such dramatic terms how awful it can be," says Rubin, a spokesman for the American Diabetes Association.

The idea of having a leg amputated as a result of damage to nerves and vessels, or going blind because the blood vessels in the eye have damaged the retina, is too scary to accept, he explains, so patients take the "it will never happen to me" approach -- and hope it works.

For others, type 2 diabetes denial sets in because they have a family history with the disease that can stir up difficult memories.

"A lot of people carry a lot of emotional baggage related to diabetes and their families," says Tracy L. Breen, MD, clinical director of the Mount Sinai diabetes program. "They had a parent or sibling who had the disease, and so they know even the early symptoms, yet they ignore them because they don't want to go through the same thing."

The Risk of Denial

Whatever the reason, denying you have type 2 diabetes is a bad idea, especially if you've been living with the disease and ignoring the symptoms.

"Many people are walking around without acknowledging they even have the disease," says Rubin. "It may be seven or eight years before they're diagnosed only because they're having serious complications."

About a third of people with type 2 diabetes are diagnosed when they show complications like eye disease and kidney problems, explains Rubin, which typically don't appear until a person has been living with the disease untreated for years. In some cases, the serious complication that can indicate your health is in trouble can be the state of your heart.

"Almost three-quarters of all people with diabetes die of heart attack or stroke," says Rubin. "So not only do you need to get your diabetes under control, you need to control your blood pressure and cholesterol as well to manage any risk for cardiovascular disease."

How can you move from diabetes denial to a healthier way of life? Acceptance is the first step in the right direction.

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