Men and diabetes complications, stepping up, sharing and living happy and healthy

Sharing the burden of diabetes - photo by David Mapletoft

Sharing the burden of diabetes – photo by David Mapletoft

Guest Post David Mapletoft, Diabetes Educator

Just like anybody, men with diabetes are at risk of a number of diabetes related complications including heart attack, stroke, kidney and eye disease. And just like anybody, living well and taking time out from worry about diabetes and its complications is important.

Men are at just as much risk of depression and diabetes distress as women are, but some men can push these things aside and try to manage alone. However these problems are best managed with support.  Sharing your worries with someone outside of your own circle can help. It is also important to have someone you trust within your circle of family and friends. In general men are less likely than women to talk about their problems, or to seek help to deal with them. But it is important that you do. Don’t wait until you have a crisis with your health to do something about it.

Some blokes tell us that they stop checking their blood glucose because the results were always high, or that the work they do prevents them from exercising or eating a healthy meal during the day. These things are solvable with help and a bit of planning. Issues can occur in relationships when men suffer with mood swings due to their diabetes. Keeping communication channels open with your partner is vital. We have a lot of women come to our service for help when they are worried about their partner. There can be a feeling that they should not talk about the problems with their partner, for fear of interfering or taking over, but working as a team is important in all aspects of your life, including diabetes.

Sometimes partners can be a great support and other times, can  come across like the “food police” watching all the time, which can lead to feelings of resentment and anger. Working out how you want your partner to be involved, whether it be not at all, in a major way, or somewhere in between, can help prevent these kinds of problems.Perhaps all you want is to be able to let off some steam sometimes. We all need that when it comes to diabetes!

Historically, men have not been comfortable discussing issues about their health, particularly conditions like diabetes, depression or sexual dysfunction. This has resulted in shorter and less healthy lives for men compared to women. But times have changed, and so have men. Many men do have a fantastic grasp of their diabetes and related conditions, actively engage with their healthcare providers, and proactively manage their health. We speak with lots of men across our website and social media who have great ideas for managing their health and are out there sharing this with others. We also speak to men who still feel they can not share their problems.

We challenge all men with diabetes to step up and take the lead when it comes to your diabetes; get as informed as you can, get support, get active, and share your journey.

Sexual Health

There are a number of tricky issues when it comes to diabetes and blokes. Diabetes affects many aspects of your physical and mental  health, but sexual health in particular is something that can be difficult to talk about and often people, both men and women, suffer in silence.

It is very important to address these problems as there are things that can help prevent and manage complications with sexual health. Most importantly issues with your sexual health can affect relationships. Your partner is vital to your overall wellbeing and diabetes management and any issues need to be discussed and sorted out so you can feel united in your relationship and your lives.

Men with diabetes are at greater risk of sexual and reproductive health problems including: Erectile problems Testosterone (or androgen) deficiency Lack of libido (sexual desire) Retrograde ejaculation (semen flows back into the bladder) Balanitis (inflammation of the head of the penis) Read more here

Sleep Apnoea

Many men with type 2 diabetes suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea or OSA, a breathing disorder where the airway is blocked when the mouth and throat relax during sleep, often for more than 10 seconds.

Are you ever jolted awake by the sound of your own snoring? Loud snoring is a sign that you may have OSA. Your family or partner may make jokes about snoring at your expense but sleep apnoea is no laughing matter. Sleep apnoea can be dangerous to your health. Untreated sleep apnoea can increase your risk of having high blood pressure and even having a heart attack or stroke. Sleep apnoea can also increase the risk of work-related accidents and driving accidents.

Although anyone can have sleep apnoea, the greater risk factors include:

  • Being male
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese

Clearly you can not change the being male part! But the other two risk factors can be changed. You can talk to your doctor about taking a test to see if you suffer from sleep apnoea and how to manage this problem.

Diabetes Australia has a series of fact sheets about complications risks, screening checks and management goals here 

Studies have shown that even small improvements in diabetes control can make a difference to the risk of long-term complications.

To reduce the risk of complications, it’s important to:

  • Follow the management plan advised by your diabetes team and work with them to make sure it is something you can keep going with in the long term. Communicate with them and tell them your concerns or worries so you can problem solve together. Don’t bury your head in the sand, monitor and then take steps to manage problems with your health.
  • Aim for BGLs mostly within the range recommended for you. This is generally 4-6 mmol fasting and under 8 mml 2 hours after meals, but may vary depending on your age, type of diabetes, activity levels, general health etc
  • Be as active as you can as often as you can. Talk with your GP, an exercise physiologist or even a personal trainer about how to build this into your life. In particular if you have a busy working day or a sedentary job, coming up with smart ways to build short bursts of exercise in during the day can help you to be active.
  • Remember the differences between types of diabetes and between individuals – what happened to someone else is not going to be your experience. Lots of people compare the complications experiences of someone they knew from many years ago with their own, but management has changed so much that we are much better at preventing and managing complications.
  • Learn as much as you can about the amazing range of healthy and delicious foods available to you and how you can have a wonderful relationship with food. Planning your meals ahead of time can help stick with this. If you are not the cook in the house, work with your partner around what meals you want and how to make healthy changes so you feel involved.
  • Take care of your mental health. Reduce stress, take time out and have some things you are passionate about in your life. Make sure you have time to enjoy your favourite sport, hobbies and passions.
  • Go and see your doctor for complications screening as scheduled. When you start and continue to have complications screening depends on your age, type of diabetes and how long you have had diabetes. Your  doctor can advise you when complications screening should start and how often to monitor. Be brave about speaking about the things you are worried about when it comes to your health.
  • In general checks will include a urine check for kidney health, blood tests for a range of things, sensation and pressure checks for your feet, specialist checks at an opthalmologist for eye health, regular monitoring of your blood pressure and heart health.
  • Don’t smoke. Just don’t do it. If you do smoke quit and seek help to do so if you can not manage on your own.
  • Seek support from other people with diabetes, your family and friends to make sure you do not feel alone with diabetes.
  • Get help and counselling if you are struggling in any way. Nobody should do diabetes alone.Head to your usual doctor (GP) who can refer you to a counsellor using a mental health plan which will cover a number of visits under medicare.

Don’t wait for a crisis with your health to happen before you do something about it. Successfully managing diabetes requires prevention and planning ahead. You can take small steps that can have a big impact on your to better manage your diabetes. One of the first is to make sure you are not doing it alone.

David, Diabetes Educator