Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases -- and one of the most misunderstood.
"Even patients who do their best to be well-informed have misconceptions about the disease," says Fredric Kraemer, MD, professor of medicine at Stanford University. "Because diabetes is so prevalent, education
Here's the truth behind some common diabetes myths.
Myth: Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the same.
Fact: Both types are linked to insulin, but the diseases are very different.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease -- the body stops making insulin. It's more commonly diagnosed in children. Between 5% and 10% of people with diabetes have type 1 and require regular insulin shots to help their bodies convert food into energy.
People with type 2 make insulin, but the body's cells don't absorb it. Things like obesity and inactivity raise the risk of getting this disease. Diet and exercise can control type 2, but most people need medications, sometimes including insulin.
Myth: If I have diabetes, I'll know it.
Fact: Symptoms tied to diabetes include peeing often, excessive thirst, fatigue, and blurred vision. You may have some of these -- or none at all.
To make a diabetes diagnosis, doctors look for fasting blood sugar levels of 126 mg/dL or higher on two separate occasions, which is high enough to signal a problem but not high enough to cause symptoms.
If you're older than 45, overweight, or have high blood pressure and a family history of diabetes, Kraemer suggests you get screened for the disease by a doctor.
Myth: If you're overweight or obese, type 2 diabetes is inevitable.
Fact: Some 69% of American adults are overweight, but less than 10% of the population has diabetes. Losing weight lowers your risk. A study done by the National Institutes of Health showed that people who lost an average of 15 pounds and exercised for 150 minutes per week lowered their risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 58%.
Myth: Too much sugar causes diabetes.
Fact: While several studies show a connection, sugar in sweets and soda might not be the problem. "A diet high in [sugar] won't cause a normal-weight individual with normal insulin levels to develop diabetes," Kraemer says.
But indulging in too much of anything, including sugar, contributes to weight gain, which raises the risk of diabetes.
Myth: Using insulin is a sign that you're not managing your diabetes well enough.
Fact: Insulin is a life-saving medication, not a sign that you're doing a poor job of managing the disease.
"It's not a failure on the part of the patient that leads to the need for insulin injections; it's a failure on the part of the cells that make and secrete insulin," Kraemer says.
While those with type 2 diabetes can often control their blood sugar levels with diet and exercise, over time their bodies may make less insulin, leading to the need to take it in medicine form. And if you have type 1 diabetes, Kraemer says, "you have to take insulin to live."
Ask Your Doctor
What is the best treatment? Treatment options vary depending on whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and the specifics of your medical history.
What lifestyle changes do I need to make? Ask your doctor how eating healthy, exercising, quitting smoking, and other lifestyle changes can improve your health.
What complications should I be aware of? Diabetes affects more than your blood sugar. You're at higher risk of heart disease, nerve damage, vision problems, and other health conditions.
Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."