Are You In Diabetes Denial?

5 steps to accept and manage your condition.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 24, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

Some people respond to the news that they have type 2 diabetes by ignoring the diagnosis. It's a head-in-the-sand reaction that is risky but somewhat understandable, says Sherita Golden, MD, an endocrinologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"We often ask patients to alter their lifestyle significantly" with a host of new habits, she says. "It's initially overwhelming."

Golden aims to meet diabetes denial with patience, and she recommends family and friends do the same.

"But we shouldn't be so patient that they're allowed to ignore their diabetes for years," she adds.

Over time, uncontrolled high blood sugar levels can lead to serious complications: eye diseases such as glaucoma, kidney disease, and foot ulcers that can result in amputation.

"All of those can be avoided by getting glucose under control sooner rather than later," she says.

If you or someone close to you is in denial, Golden suggests taking these steps.

Start simple. If you're only willing to take on one new habit at first, Golden advises you take any medications your doctor prescribes -- consistently. Speak up if you have side effects, a situation that may tempt you to skip meds.

"There are alternatives that we can prescribe," Golden says.

Listen to and express your emotions. Golden led research revealing that people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes "are twice as likely to have depression and depressed mood compared to individuals who don't have diabetes."

The choice to ignore your diagnosis may be a symptom of depression, and treating the condition with therapy or medication could help some people stick to a diabetes treatment plan.

Consider joining a support group. They can help because "they let patients know they're not alone," Golden says. When you're newly diagnosed, it helps to meet experienced patients who can share tips.

Talk to a nutrition counselor. Many people believe a diabetes diagnosis means no sweets ever. In reality, you can eat treats if you adjust your meals accordingly. A dietitian or certified diabetes educator can help you set up a meal plan built around your own needs and preferences.

Ask Your Doctor or Diabetes Educator

If I ignore my diabetes, what will happen to my body?

If I start with just one diabetes-management habit, which one is the most important?

What is my current A1c level, and what target level should I aim for?

Can you refer me to a nutritionist who can help me consider changes to my diet?

Is it possible that I'm depressed? What symptoms should I watch for?

Can you put me in touch with a support group for people with diabetes?

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Sherita Golden, MD, MHS, professor of medicine and epidemiology, and executive vice chair, department of medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Director, Inpatient Diabetes Management Service, Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Golden, S. Journal of the American Medical Association, June 18, 2008.

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