5 Embarrassing Type 2 Diabetes Questions Answered
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Bad breath, the unavoidable urge to use the restroom constantly — type 2 diabetes can cause some embarrassing symptoms. But while discussing some of your body’s functions can feel a bit taboo, when it comes to sharing sometimes awkward symptoms with your doctor, nothing should be off the table. “It can be difficult for people to discuss some of the more embarrassing symptoms related to type 2 diabetes,” says endocrinologist Susan Spratt, MD, the director of Diabetes Services for Duke University Health System. But in order for your doctor to design a customized plan for your overall health, he or she needs to know about every little ache, pain, or itch you’re feeling.
Still a bit shy about sharing? Here are explanations for some of the most common embarrassing type 2 diabetes symptoms.
Why do I itch … down there?The likely culprit: a yeast infection. Although the occasional yeast infection is normal among women, those with type 2 diabetes actually have a greater risk for developing one, even more so if they have elevated blood sugar, which appears in the mucus of the vagina, says Dr. Spratt. “Yeasts like moist places, and glucose is a nutrient source for them,” so the combination of extra blood sugar and an ideal environment leads to an overgrowth of yeast and more frequent yeast infections. You may also have a higher risk of yeast infections if you’re taking antibiotics, are pregnant, or have a weakened immune system, according to the U S. Department of Health and Human Services.
WHAT TO DO:Getting your A1C level in the target range set by your doctor is the first step. Beyond that, your doctor can prescribe antifungal medications to alleviate yeast infection symptoms.
Why can’t I get an erection?According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), men who have diabetes are two to three times more likely to develop erectile dysfunction (ED) than men who don't have diabetes, and about half of men diagnosed with type 2 diabetes will develop ED within 10 years of their diagnosis. The problems, says Spratt, are nerves and circulation. Elevated blood sugar can damage the nerves and blood vessels that control sexual stimulation and the ability to achieve and maintain an erection.
WHAT TO DO:The good news: A study published in 2014 in the journalDiabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapyfound that adopting a healthier lifestyle — including exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet — can help you reduce your ED symptoms and maintain a healthy sexual life. You can also talk to your doctor about treatment options for ED.
Why can’t I make it to the bathroom?The persistent urge to urinate, as well as incontinence, can be one of the most embarrassing symptoms for people with type 2 diabetes. When there are elevated levels of sugar in your blood, your kidneys flush the excess sugar out through urine, “which leads to the urge to urinate more frequently,” says Spratt. In addition, according to the NIDDK, more than half of men and women with diabetes have bladder dysfunction because of damage to the nerves that control the bladder. Common bladder problems include overactive bladder, urinary leakage, and urine retention.
WHAT TO DO:A heightened blood sugar level is the likeliest cause of your incontinence, which is why your doctor may have you see a dietitian to create a meal plan and make other healthy lifestyle changes to address your elevated A1C. Other treatment options depend on the specific bladder problem you’re experiencing.
Why are my toenails thick and yellow?That discoloration on your big toe shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, toenail fungus, or onychomycosis, is common in people with type 2 diabetes. A study evaluating its prevalence found that of 321 participants with type 2 diabetes, 162 were diagnosed with nail fungus. The study’s results were published in 2011 in theJournal of the American Podiatric Medical Association.“When your glucose is not well controlled, it creates environments where fungus likes to grow, such as your toenails,” explains Spratt. “It also creates an environment where your white blood cells don’t fight off infection as easily and the fungus can easily grow.”
WHAT TO DO:Toenail fungus is not something to take lightly. The condition can lead to osteomyelitis, a bone infection usually caused by bacteria, mycobacteria, or fungi. A study published in July 2019 inInternational Wound Journalfound that patients with osteomyelitis were at higher risk for amputation, which is why treatment of toenail fungus is necessary. Spratt recommends annual foot exams with your doctor or a podiatrist to evaluate the toenail region. Topical or oral medication may also be prescribed.
Why does my breath smell?A major cause of bad breath is periodontal disease, common signs of which include red, tender, or bleeding gums; sensitive teeth; and receding gums. An estimated one in three people with diabetes have periodontal disease, according a report inIOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences. But it’s not just the health of your teeth and gums that complicates things in your mouth. High levels of ketones can also cause bad breath. The reason, explains Spratt, is that when you don’t have enough insulin to help your body use sugar for energy, your body begins to burn fat instead, which produces ketones. Certain chemicals released during this process can cause bad breath.
WHAT TO DO:Semiannual visits to the dentist are crucial for maintaining a healthy mouth, says Spratt. You should also follow a good oral care routine that includes brushing twice daily and flossing at least once a day. The best way to address the problem of ketones is to maintain a healthy blood sugar level, which means semiannual or quarterly visits to your doctor or endocrinologist to have your A1C levels checked.
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