To say diabetes is a serious disease is an understatement. Every year, it causes more deaths than AIDS and breast cancer combined, according to the American Diabetes Association, and it nearly doubles a person’s chance of suffering a heart attack. Further, since 2020, we’ve seen that people with diabetes are more at risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19—as well as from any virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes diabetes as “a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.” That’s because when you eat, your body breaks the food down into something called glucose, which is sugar. That sugar goes into your bloodstream and is regulated by something called insulin, which is produced in the pancreas. When a person has diabetes, their body either doesn’t make insulin or doesn’t use insulin like it should, so it can’t control the sugar properly. Over time, that could lead to serious health issues, including but not limited to heart disease, kidney disease and vision problems.

The three different types of diabetes are type 1 diabetes (the body produces little or no insulin; most frequently occurs in children and adolescents but could develop at any age); type 2 diabetes (the body doesn’t make good use of the insulin it produces; more common in adults and accounts for nearly 90 percent of diabetes cases) and gestational diabetes (occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away, although the mother and child are at a greater risk of later developing type 2 diabetes).   

In the United States, about one out of every 10 Americans have diabetes, while one out of every three have prediabetes—and most of them don’t even know it, according to the CDC. Nor do they know that having prediabetes puts them at higher risk for developing a number of other conditions, including type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about your risk for diabetes, and to learn about what it means to have type 2 diabetes—and even how you can prevent it.

Below, you’ll find some myths and facts about diabetes to help you better understand this pervasive and often undiagnosed disease.

1. Myth: I can’t prevent diabetes.

Fact: You can take steps today to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends says there are a number of actions you can take that may help prevent diabetes. Those include the following:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. In fact, the government organization suggests losing 5 to 7 percent of your total body weight to prevent or delay diabetes.
  • Exercise. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five times a week. But first, talk to your health care provider before beginning any new workout routines.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Opt for water instead of sugary drinks and eat small portions of food that aren’t high in fat. serves as a good guide to food groups and portions, and offers tips and tools for healthy eating.  

2. Myth: I am overweight so I’ll likely develop type 2 diabetes.

Fact: It’s true that being overweight is a risk factor for developing diabetes, but many people who have diabetes aren’t overweight. In addition, a number of other risk factors are at play, according to ADA: lack of physical activity, age, family history and ethnicity.

3. Myth: Diabetes isn’t a big deal.

Fact: Diabetes is a very serious disease. According to the CDC, it’s the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. It is also the leading cause of kidney failure, lower limb amputations and blindness in adults. And it’s an enormous concern: in just the last two decades, diabetes cases have more than doubled in adults.

4. Myth: Eating sugar causes diabetes.

Fact: Eating sugar and sweets doesn’t cause diabetes, but can contribute to weight gain, and that can increase your risk of diabetes, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The idea that sugar causes diabetes comes from confusion about the role your body plays in regulating the sugar it makes—the process we described earlier in this piece. Still, cutting  back on sugar is generally a good idea for your overall health!

5. Myth: There is a cure for diabetes.

Fact: There is no cure for diabetes. However, you can control diabetes by managing your blood sugar levels through diet, exercise and, if needed, medication.

6. Myth: If I have diabetes, I’ll know it.

Fact: Of the 34.2 adults living with diabetes in the United States, one in five doesn’t even know they’re sick, according to the CDC. That may be because diabetes can develop slowly, over several years, and some may not experience any symptoms. When symptoms do arise, the CDC says they may include frequent urination (often at night), feelings of thirst, weight loss, increased hunger, blurry vision, tingling hands or feet, dry skin, fatigue, sores that are slow to heal, an increase in infections. People with type 1 diabetes may experience nausea, vomiting or stomach pains.

 7. Myth: Prediabetes always leads to diabetes.

Fact: Prediabetes does not guarantee you’ll get diabetes. Rather, if you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, use it as a wake-up call to focus on healthy habits that can lower your risk of developing diabetes by losing weight, exercising and eating a balanced diet. If you don’t make these changes, your risk for developing diabetes will increase.

 8. Myth: People with diabetes must eat a special diet.

Fact: A healthy diet for people with diabetes is just that—a healthy diet. ADA says to focus on eating lots of non-starchy vegetables, whole grains and whole foods, and avoid or minimize processed foods, refined grains and food with added sugar. The site Diabetes Food Hub, which is from the nutrition experts at ADA, offers lots of suggestions and recipes. 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: diabetes is a serious disease. But if you approach it seriously, and make healthy choices when it comes to diet and exercise, you can still live a long and fulfilling life. To learn more about diabetes—including your own risk factors—and to get personalized health tips, make an appointment with your health care provider.