Diabetes: An Underrated Illness

Many people have a tendency to underestimate the devastating effects of diabetes, as Tara Parker-Pope points out in her recent NY Times article. She cites studies where participants ranked various diseases, giving diabetes only 4s and 5s on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the worst).

Several factors give people this optimistic view of diabetes: lack of direct fatalities, knowledge that people live seemingly normal lives with the disease, and knowledge that the disease is manageable with medications.

But as Parker-Pope notes, this view is erroneous:

But diabetes is anything but minor. It wreaks havoc on the entire body, affecting everything from hearing and vision to sexual function, mental health and sleep. It is the leading cause of blindness, amputations and kidney failure, and it can triple the risk for heart attack and stroke.

“It is a disease that does have the ability to eat you alive,” said Dr. John B. Buse, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine who is the diabetes association’s president for medicine and science. “It can be just awful – it’s almost unimaginable how bad it can be.”

This is particularly true for people who lack the time or income for proper self-care. The “treatable” nature of diabetes generally applies only to those who have access to regular medical care. Even people with health insurance sometimes find the required standard of care too costly.

Diabetes is also associated with a wide range of other health problems, as the article lists, from liver disease to depression to hearing loss.

In short, nobody should be underestimating the effects of this disease.

Even doctors who treat diabetics can fail to take the disease seriously enough and fail to give diabetics the care they need to avoid the consequences of high blood sugar.

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