NEARLY one million people in the UK could be risking their health and experiencing emotional distress by keeping their diabetes a secret, according to a survey by leading health charity Diabetes UK.
The survey, conducted for Diabetes Week (12 – 18 June 2011), found that one in three people with diabetes (34 per cent) had, or were still, keeping their diabetes a secret.
Worryingly, almost half of these people (49 per cent) felt that not talking about their diabetes had impacted on how they manage their condition – and over a third (39 per cent) felt this had affected their physical or emotional health.
Over a quarter of people (27 per cent) had kept their condition a secret for fear of discrimination or bullying.
These people were most likely to keep their diabetes a secret at work (59 per cent) however 56 per cent had also kept their diabetes a secret from their friends.
Reasons for doing so included not wanting diabetes to affect employment chances or people assuming the condition developed as a result of an unhealthy diet.
Barbara Young, chief executive at Diabetes UK, said: “We have to ask why so many people with diabetes keep it a secret. Learning to live with and managing diabetes is challenging enough without the physical and psychological impact of such a burden. It is hugely concerning that the health and well-being of so many people could be at risk as a result of discrimination or prejudice.”
Many respondents commented that they missed insulin injections or delayed testing their blood glucose to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
Badly managed blood glucose levels can increase the risk of long term complications, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and amputation, and short term complications, such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and hypoglycaemia (hypo).
Both DKA and hypos can result in hospitalisation or can even be fatal if not treated immediately.
Barbara Young continued: “There are 2.8 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK who need friends, family, employers and the public to understand how common diabetes is becoming and how serious it can be if people aren’t supported to manage their condition.
“We believe all people should receive enough support to help them manage their diabetes and that’s why services such as our Diabetes UK Careline are so vital. Simply knowing you have someone to talk to when you need it most can make all the difference to help people better manage their diabetes and reduce their risk of developing devastating complications.”
Other key statistics from the survey include:
39 per cent of women have kept their diabetes a secret in comparison to 28 per cent of men.
People aged 17 – 21 were most likely to keep their diabetes a secret (48 per cent of this group had done so)
35 per cent of people feel they do not receive enough support to manage their diabetes.
41 per cent of people with diabetes would like more psychological support.
48 per cent of under 16s have kept their diabetes a secret at school.
Type 1 diabetes develops when insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. This type of diabetes usually appears before the age of 40 and accounts for around 10 per cent of all people with diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, it is not known why it develops and it is not connected with being overweight.
People with Type 1 diabetes have to take insulin either via a pump or by injections several times a day to stay alive.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly.
Insulin acts as a key unlocking the cells, so if there is not enough insulin, or it is not working properly, the cells are only partially unlocked (or not at all) and glucose builds up in the blood.
Type 2 diabetes usually affects people over 40 (over 25 in people from South Asian and Black backgrounds) and can be treated with a healthy diet and increased physical activity but medication and/or insulin is often required.
In around 80 per cent of cases the condition is linked with being overweight and can go undetected for up to ten years.
In 2011, Diabetes UK aims to spend over £6 million on diabetes research to investigate the causes and prevention of diabetes, to improve care and treatment of diabetes and ultimately to work towards a cure.