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  • Antoinette Kruse

What is Diabetes Distress?

Updated: Nov 13, 2022

How can living with a chronic condition like diabetes affect mental health?

Managing a chronic condition such as diabetes can be very stressful and affect a person’s mental health. People may experience sadness and grief, which, over time, can lead to depression. Fatigue or pain can limit physical activity and prevent people from doing what they enjoy. Stress about the future and the unpredictability of the chronic condition can also cause anxiety.

Some people with diabetes develop diabetes distress. They may experience overwhelming feelings of frustration and feel tired of having to manage their condition daily. Diabetes distress may cause people to slip into unhealthy habits, stop checking their blood sugar, and even skip doctor’s appointments. It can look like depression or anxiety, but medicine cannot treat it effectively.

What is the link between diabetes and depression?

A person with diabetes is 2–3 timesTrusted Source more likely to develop depression than someone without the condition. On the other hand, depression increases the risk and severity of diabetes.

The common causes of diabetes and depression are poor sleep, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet. These factors are also associated with chronic stress, hormonal imbalances, and increased inflammation in the body.

Research also suggests that long-term use of antidepressants can increase diabetes risk.

Additionally, both high and low blood sugar levels affect how the brain functions in terms of mood and thinking ability. Over time, diabetes can change the brain’s structure, leading to mood disturbances.

Do people with diabetes tend to experience other mental health conditions? Please explain. People with diabetes are 20% more likelyTrusted Source than those without diabetes to have anxiety at some point in their lives. Managing a long-term condition such as diabetes can be a major source of anxiety for some. Receiving a diagnosis or finding out that they have a diabetes complication can be a trigger for some people. It is important to note that anxiety has similar symptoms to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), so people should check their blood sugar if they feel anxious and treat it if it is low. Additionally, women with type 1 diabetes may be at risk of developing eating disorders and purposely restricting insulin to lose weight (diabulimia). Some older research suggests that eating disorders occur in 31–40% of women with type 1 diabetes between the ages of 15 and 30.

How can living with a mental health condition make it harder to manage diabetes? Having depression or anxiety can make it difficult to manage diabetes and can worsen a person’s prognosis. They may be less motivated to do self-care activities. People with depression are more likely to be sedentary and have an unhealthy diet, which can lead to higher blood sugar levels. Smoking is also more common in people with mental health conditions and increases the risk of diabetes complications such as stroke and heart disease. Older research suggests that people with mental health conditions may be more likely to have trouble following treatment recommendations, attending appointments, and keeping up with glucose monitoring and foot care.

Is it safe to take medications for mental health conditions if a person has diabetes? Yes, it is safe for people to take medications for mental health conditions if they live with diabetes. However, many drugs for the treatment of depression and anxiety can make it harder for people to manage their blood sugar. Medications can change the way the body processes glucose and makes and responds to insulin. A doctor may recommend stopping or reducing these medications if a person’s blood sugar levels become too high.

Source: Medical News Today. Dr. Kelly Wood is an ABMS board certified endocrinologist and internal medicine physician who treats adults with diabetes, thyroid disease, osteoporosis, and other hormonal conditions. She achieved her fellowship in endocrinology from University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.

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