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ASU study: How outside stressors affect those with diabetes-related distress

Research suggests importance of developing, using screening tools

Headshot of ASU Assistant Professor Niko Verdecias

Assistant Professor Niko Verdecias

June 26, 2023

For some people living with diabetes, challenges such as having enough food and a safe and stable home can make it harder to manage blood sugar levels or other medical-related needs.

That stress can have a greater impact on people with limited resources, according to an article published in the July issue of the Journal of Diabetes and its Complications. The lead author of the paper is College of Health Solutions Assistant Professor Niko Verdecias.

Verdecias said the study shows the importance of doctors and researchers creating ways to look at how everyday needs can affect those with diabetes-related distress.

“The goal is for what we learned in this study to be used to create screening tools and ways to help people living with diabetes more easily control it, lower the chance of developing other conditions, and avoid distress that can be felt while trying to achieve their health goals outside of the doctor’s office,” Verdecias said.

Diabetes distress is highly prevalent among people living with the condition, but often health-care providers don’t screen for it. Existing studies estimate that 36% of people living with diabetes have accompanying distress, which can make it harder for people to self-manage their diabetes if left untreated.

Unrecognized distress can lead to outcomes such as uncontrolled HbA1c levels. The HbA1c test, also known as the hemoglobin A1a or simply A1c test, is a blood test commonly used to diagnose and manage prediabetes and diabetes.

Verdecias said there is plentiful research on how distress impacts diabetes, but researchers know less about what contributes to the distress itself.

“Our study found that targeted distress screening efforts might prioritize people with higher HbA1c values, greater depression and worse diabetes self-efficacy,” she said. “It also provides some evidence for examining and prioritizing unmet social needs such as those related to food, housing, utility costs, child care and safety.

“The results of this study highlight the need to screen for and mediate factors that can lead to distress, thus prompting earlier intervention that can lead to improved community health and the prevention of developing longer-term worsening of diabetes and comorbidities.”

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