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."
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;
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."
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.
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