‘De-stress’ your diabetes

Stress on the health and lives of people living with diabetes is this week being highlighted as a silent, and often overlooked, phenomenon affecting hundreds of thousands of Australians.

As part of National Diabetes Week 2012, which began yesterday (Sunday, 8 July 2012), Diabetes WA aimed to spotlight the need to monitor the many, and sometimes serious, impacts of stress on people with diabetes.

Diabetes WA health services general manager, Helen Mitchell, said while stress was a normal part of life for everyone, proper stress management for people with diabetes was essential to good health.

“Stress can affect the blood glucose levels of people with diabetes in different ways and if these levels are not managed well then some people can experience problems with low blood sugar and longer term serious complications including loss of sight, heart disease and circulation problems, just to name a few,” she explained.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes affected more than a million Australians and in just over 10 years, the number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes was predicted to triple.

During National Diabetes Week, Diabetes WA’s ‘Know Your Stress Limits’ campaign reminds people with diabetes, and their health professionals, not to ignore the effects of stress on blood glucose levels and overall health.

Ms Mitchell added most people with diabetes were good at monitoring how their bodies and blood glucose levels reacted to exercise and to dietary changes, but did not necessarily monitor their reactions to stress.

Professor Jane Speight, foundation director of the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes, a partnership between Deakin University and Diabetes Australia Victoria, echoed Ms Mitchell’s concerns.

“There isn’t one specific way in which people with diabetes react to stress, and these responses in terms of blood glucose levels, are quite individual,” she said.

Professor Speight added fluctuating blood glucose levels induced by stress could lead to hypoglycaemia in the short-term and more serious long-term complications.

“The DWA public awareness campaign on the impact of stress for people with diabetes is the first to spotlight this often overlooked issue,” she claimed.

She added many people with diabetes experience a degree of distress as a result of having to deal with the daily demands of living with a long-term condition and this distress could vary from mild to severe.

The findings from the Diabetes MILES Study (a national survey of more than 3,000 people) also indicated about one in four people with diabetes experience clinical levels of depression.

Effective management of stress levels and keeping on top of blood glucose levels were steps in reducing such risks and maintaining health.

“In a sense, people with diabetes need to be their own scientist and monitor the effects of stress in different situations on their blood glucose levels and bodies,” she said.

But she also emphasised the importance of reminding GPs and other health professionals to take into account the effects of stress when supporting people with diabetes.

Advice on ‘de-stressing diabetes’ is available on the Diabetes WA website.