Knowing the facts about diabetes is important when it comes to managing the condition. There is so much information out there, but it is not all true. It is often difficult to know what is right and what is not. This section aims to help dispel some of the most common myths about diabetes – let's have a look at some of them...
Myth: Type 2 diabetes is a mild form of diabetes
There is no such thing as mild diabetes. All diabetes is serious and, if not properly controlled, can lead to serious complications.
Myth: People with diabetes cannot have sugar
Having diabetes does not mean you have to have a sugar-free diet. People with diabetes should follow a healthy balanced diet – that is low in fat, salt and sugar. You should still be able to enjoy a wide variety of foods, including some with sugar.
Myth: People with diabetes should eat 'diabetic' foods
'Diabetic' labelling tends to be used on sweets, biscuits and similar foods that are generally high in fat, especially saturated fat and calories. Diabetes UK does not recommend eating 'diabetic' foods, including diabetic chocolate, because they still affect your blood glucose levels, they are expensive and they can give you diarrhoea. So, if you are going to treat yourself, you should go for the real thing.
Myth: People with diabetes eventually go blind
Although diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in people of working age in the UK, research has proved you can reduce your chances of developing diabetes complications – such as damage to your eyes – if you:
- control your blood pressure, glucose, and blood fat levels
- keep active
- maintain your ideal body weight
- give up smoking.
Myth: It's not safe to drive if you have diabetes
Providing you are responsible and have good control of your diabetes, research shows that people with diabetes are no less safe on the roads than anyone else. Nevertheless, the myth that people with diabetes are not safe persists.
Diabetes UK is working with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in England, Scotland and Wales and the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in Northern Ireland to ensure that the process for applying and reapplying for driving licences is fair, safe and transparent.
Myth: People with diabetes can't play sport
People with diabetes are encouraged to exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. Keeping active can help reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes, such as heart disease. Steve Redgrave, Olympic gold medal-winning rower, has achieved great sporting achievements in spite of having diabetes.
However, there may be some considerations to take into account before taking up a new exercise regime. Talk to your healthcare team for more information.
Myth: People with diabetes are more likely to get colds and other illnesses
Not true. While there is some medical research that may suggest people with diabetes are at higher risk of developing illnesses, there’s nothing to prove this conclusively. But there are certain illnesses that are more common in people with diabetes, and diabetes may also alter the course of an illness – for example, a person with diabetes may become more unwell or be unwell for longer than a person without diabetes.
Myth: Having diabetes means you can't do certain jobs
Having diabetes should not stop you from getting and keeping a job. However, despite the Equality Act 2010 (Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland), people with diabetes still face blanket bans in some areas of employment, including the armed forces. Diabetes UK campaigns to lift discriminatory blanket bans.
Myth: People with diabetes can't wear flight socks
Many flight socks carry the warning that they are not suitable for people with diabetes. If you have any circulatory problems or complications with your feet, such as ulcers, then speak to your GP before using them. If, however, your feet and legs are generally healthy and you are normally active, using flight socks is unlikely to do you any harm.
Myth: People with diabetes can't eat grapes, mangoes or bananas
People sometimes think that if they have diabetes they can't eat grapes and bananas as they taste sweet. But if you eat a diet that includes these fruits, you can still achieve good blood glucose control. In fact, grapes and bananas, like all fruit, make a very healthy choice.
Fruit is high in fibre, low in fat and full of vitamins and minerals. It helps to protect against heart disease, cancer and certain stomach problems.
Myth: People with diabetes can't cut their own toenails
Not true: the general advice on toenail cutting applies to everyone. If you have diabetes you should keep your nails healthy by cutting them to the shape of the end of your toes. Don't cut them straight across, curved down the sides, or too short. Remember, your nails are there to protect your toes.
It is safest to trim your nails with a pair of nail clippers and to use an emery board to file the corners of your nails. If it is difficult for you to care for your nails, you should seek help from a podiatrist.
It is important to realise that there is a lot of misinformation out there. Make sure you get your information from reliable sources, such as your diabetes healthcare team or Diabetes UK.
Other frequently asked questions
Can I still travel if I have diabetes?
Of course. People with diabetes travel all over the world – you do not need to choose special holidays or curb your wander lust. The key is making the right preparations to minimise any potential problems and have an enjoyable safe trip.
Will I need extra support and where can I get it?
Managing your diabetes can at times seem incredibly demanding and some people find that support and encouragement can be really beneficial in helping them cope. Support should ideally come from someone you have regular contact with, maybe your partner, a friend, or someone from your healthcare team.
What education is available?
NHS guidelines recommend that people with diabetes be offered patient education programmes, known as structured education. All people with diabetes should receive the education and support they need to equip them with the necessary information and skills to manage their diabetes. Discuss with your healthcare team about suitable courses available in your area.