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Searching for solutions for diabetes distress during pregnancy

Sep 27, 2017
By Guylaine Spencer

diabetes glucose monitor


The stress of living with a chronic disease like diabetes can take its toll. When that anxiety is so strong that it interferes with personal and social life and how a patient manages their symptoms, experts call it “diabetes distress”. The Problem Area in Diabetes (PAID) Scale measures the extent of the suffering. About 1 in 5 expectant mothers experience this condition. 

Holly Tschirhart MenezesHolly Tschirhart Menezes is a PhD student in the McMaster School of Nursing and a Certified Diabetes Educator. She’s interested in how pregnant women with pre-existing diabetes cope with diabetes distress. So far, researchers have paid little attention to this group. Tschirhart Menezes recently conducted a research study with a group of ​69  patients at the McMaster University Medical Centre. In September, she presented her findings at the Foundation of European Nurses in Diabetes in Lisbon, Portugal.  

“I shared the preliminary survey results of my PhD thesis research in the form of a poster presentation,” says Tschirhart Menezes. “I discussed the reason for the study and the methods. I was very pleased to see interest in this topic from other diabetes educators and strong support for the next steps. I’m excited to move into the next phase of this study, which is to do interviews. I believe there are important insights to uncover from these patients about their experiences and perceptions of distress while managing diabetes in pregnancy. By hearing their stories, we can use this information to build our knowledge about the impact of distress and how we can improve support to women with diabetes during pregnancy.” 

Many of the women she has met feel alone “because their pregnancy is so different from their sister’s or their best friend’s pregnancy,” says Tschirhart Menezes. “One way to support them might be to invite them to join a peer-support group facilitated by an educator. I’ve heard from many women that they don’t know a lot of other women who have diabetes. So that could be therapeutic.” Another option might be mindfulness practices combined with prenatal yoga. “That could help with their stress levels.” 

Associate Professor Diana Sherifali is Holly Tschirhart Menezes’s PhD supervisor. “Holly’s research highlights a gap in clinical care and therefore her work continues to be of interest nationally and internationally,” says Sherifali. “Her research team includes School of Nursing faculty, an internist from the University of Calgary, and the Hamilton Health Sciences’ high-risk pregnancy team. Everyone is so excited that she will continue to explore this topic in her doctoral studies ... including expectant moms living with pre-existing diabetes.”


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