Diabetics need information and support, and groups offer both.(ISTOCKPHOTO)

Joining a community of people with diabetes—either an online or in-person version—can provide you with a rich source of encouragement and information. Members can help you solve problems, suggest questions for your next doctor's visit, and get you through tough times.

How one man found help online

Paul Shirley felt better after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in December 2006. For years he'd been battling sinus infections and fatigue, which he now knows were issues related to the diabetes.

He changed his diet and started taking medication. Then he aggravated an old shoulder injury, which required surgery and physical therapy. He started feeling terrible again and had difficulty controlling his blood sugar.

The 56-year-old Easley, S.C., resident wondered if it could be related to his injury. So he asked the members of a diabetes-related email group. Of course, they said: Being sick or injured can throw off your blood sugar.

"You can't go to your doctor or even your diabetes educator every time you have a question. But you can go on this list, and people are glad to talk to you about it," he says. Although the support group members aren't experts, their "friendly, experienced" advice is sometimes all the help he needs.

Shirley, who's working on his doctorate in psychology, notes that some people in online groups may argue or push unwanted advice on you. In that case, it's best to ignore them or privately email the moderator, the person responsible for maintaining order on the discussion board or email list.

To find an online discussion board or email list, check out the American Diabetes Association, dLife, or Diabetes Talkfest.

[ pagebreak ]Support groups offer diabetes education

If you're not Internet-savvy, or if you're wary of talking to strangers online, meeting with people in real life may be easier than learning how to log on to an online discussion board or sign up for a daily email list.

Group support is particularly important if you live in a rural area where health professionals are few and far between. In Waycross, Ga.—75 miles from the nearest big city—Craig Roberts, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in March 1963, established a monthly diabetes support group two and a half years ago. Roughly 15 people usually attend, but sometimes the crowd swells to 25.

At every third meeting, participants discuss "anything and everything" related to diabetes management, and Roberts brings in articles covering breaking news about the disease. At the rest of the meetings, he arranges for medical professionals to come in and speak. There's only one endocrinologist and one certified diabetes educator practice in the area, so good advice can be hard to come by.

"I think that one thing people need to do when they have diabetes is basically learn all they can about it. That's why I formed the support group, to provide a channel of education," says the 48-year-old, who works as a computer support specialist at a local community college.

For information on finding a live support group in your area, contact your area American Diabetes Association (ADA) office, your local hospital, or your doctor.

Whether you meet in person or online, be cautious about discussing private information in either type of support group. It's wise to not share your phone number or home address online, and you should get to know people in a real-life support group before you share this information, too.