Diabetes taking a toll on emotions - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Diabetes taking a toll on emotions

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Many people know diabetes can take a serious toll on physical health. But did you know, these blood-sugar disorders can also affect your emotions.  In turn, those emotions can have an immense toll on your diabetes control.  Extremes in blood-sugar levels can cause significant mood changes, and new research suggests that frequent changes in blood-sugar levels (called glycemic variability) also can affect mood and quality of life for those with diabetes.

Depression has long been linked to diabetes, especially type 2. It's still not clear, however, whether depression somehow triggers diabetes or if having diabetes leads to being depressed.  More recent research in people with type 1 diabetes has found that long periods of high blood-sugar levels can trigger the production of a hormone linked to the development of depression.  People with type 1 diabetes no longer can make their own insulin; people with type 2 diabetes need insulin treatment because their bodies can no longer produce it in sufficient quantities.

"Diabetes gives you so much to worry about that it's exhausting. It can make you feel powerless," said Joe Solowiejczyk, a certified diabetes educator and a manager of diabetes counseling and training at the Johnson & Johnson Diabetes Institute. "I think it's important to acknowledge that, from time to time, you're going to have a meltdown. You're going to have days when you feel exasperated, frustrated, sad, in denial and physically exhausted."

Not only does diabetes increase the risk of serious health complications, but uncontrolled diabetes also may worsen depression, causing a vicious cycle.  In addition to an increased risk of depression, diabetes can affect mood even from minute to minute. For example, someone who experiences low blood sugar may suddenly become irritable, even combative, and may act as if they are drunk, slurring their words.

Low blood-sugar levels (also known as hypoglycemia) occur when someone has taken too much insulin or hasn't eaten enough food. Exercise, alcohol and many other factors can lower blood-sugar levels unpredictably.  Dr. Vivian Fonseca, president of medicine and science for the American Diabetes Association, said, "Hypoglycemia reactions are very understandable. There are also some fluctuations that are not quite in the hypoglycemia range that may affect anxiety levels."

High blood-sugar levels (hyperglycemia) also can lead to mood changes. "Hyperglycemia can affect your ability to concentrate and can make you feel grouchy," Solowiejczyk said. "Any change in the blood sugar outside of the normal ranges makes you feel weird and uncomfortable."

Another emotional minefield often associated with type 2 diabetes is the concept of blame. Most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, and many are sedentary. Being overweight alone, however, doesn't cause type 2 diabetes. There are other factors, such as a genetic predisposition. But because exercise and losing weight can help prevent -- or, in some cases, reverse -- type 2 diabetes, society often blames people with the disease. (Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that is not caused by diet or lack of exercise.)  What's important is that if you're persistently having trouble dealing with any of the emotions that come with diabetes, you talk with your doctor, diabetes educator or therapist.