When you say diabetes, most people think about obese people who are not allowed to eat sugar and take medication to lower their blood glucose levels. This is type 2 diabetes caused by the resistance of body tissues to insulin. Type 1 diabetes is pretty different and has a higher negative impact on the life of people suffering from this disease. So, what it’s really like to live with it?
What is type 1 diabetes?
Researchers are not entirely sure what cause it but there is evidence sustaining a hereditary etiology and environmental factors that destroy the insulin producing cells of the pancreas. As opposed to type 2 diabetes where the pancreas can secrete insulin but can’t do it enough, type 1 diabetics have no insulin in their body. This causes blood glucose levels to spike and the risk of a diabetic coma is imminent.
This is actually the case of a 13 year old boy who had a glycaemia of 927, when the normal value is 70-100 depending on the method used by the laboratory that performs the test. It is actually a miracle he didn’t drop into a coma by then. The boy was not diagnosed until this point and was rushed to the hospital to get this blood glucose level lowered. He survived and is now living with type 1 diabetes.
What are the symptoms of type-1 diabetes?
It all started with a frequent need to urinate (polyuria) and an everlasting thirst (polydipsia). The boy actually said that during a 50-minute class at school he had to go to the bathroom at least once. He lost weight very rapidly, a point when his parents took him to the doctor.
After several investigations, the huge glycaemia was revealed and the life of the boy was saved. Apart from this hyperglycemia, the doctors have probably found glucose in urine too. This compound should not be present in urine. If he went on living with this much glucose in his bloodstream, he would have definitely fallen into a coma in a week and he would have perhaps not survived.
This type of diabetes is also known as insulin dependent because you have to administer insulin into the subcutaneous tissue several times per day to keep your glycaemia in check. 15 years ago insulin pumps did not exist and patients had to stick themselves with very fine needles for at least 4 times a day. The injections are usually done in the abdominal fat.
The parents of pediatric patients must be instructed on how to do this. If the child is old enough to understand, he may do it himself but not from the very beginning. Doing it wrong can have fatal consequences.
Nowadays, there are insulin pumps that can administer a high dose at mealtime and maintain a basal level of glucose between meals. A pod with insulin is placed on the area and a small needle is inserted into the skin very fast through a small plastic tube called a cannula. The patient doesn’t feel much and he doesn’t have to carry syringes around all the time. The pod comes with a device that measures insulin and tests the blood glucose.
Keeping a food diary
Patients with type-1 diabetes monitor everything they eat in order to count the carbs, not only the sugar. The amount of insulin administered varies depending on what you eat, how much you eat and the level of physical exercise.
Administering insulin when there is no need for it can put you into a hypoglycemic coma that is worse than a hyperglycemic one because the patient usually dies or comes back with severe neurological deficits. The brain is very sensible to drops in blood sugar.
Patients with type 1 diabetes are free and humane
This disease is no longer a sentence to death or a long stay in a hospital bed. You can be as physically active as you like as long as you monitor your meals and glucose. It is not easy but advances in medicine and technology have given them the chance to a life as normal as possible. Unfortunately, there is no cure yet for type 1 or for type 2 diabetes.
In 2012, there were 3 million Americans suffering from this disease and 80 new cases are diagnosed every day, not to mention how many cases fall through the cracks. These patients should have our support and it would be a shame if their social integration should suffer due to this disease.