My dad suffers from type 1 diabetes, and while I’ve known that he suffers from it for my whole life it wasn’t until recently that I started thinking about how it actually affects him. He isn’t the only one in my family who suffers from diabetes, both of my uncles from my dad’s side were also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a young age. Its kind of just become a thing that I know about but never thought about, and I used to think that was okay. Many people have heard about diabetes and probably have a general understanding but they rarely think about how it actually affects people in their day to day life, and I’ve found that is difficult to understand what its like without actually going through it yourself.
Why is this a problem?
Think of it this way, you know that someone close to you has a broken leg but you still ask them to do things that would be impossible with a broken leg. Not acknowledging or caring about how something so obviously affects a person’s life is just unempathetic and rude. The reason this is a problem with diabetes is that the effects aren’t as obvious on the surface level. Just because you can’t see a problem doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The real problem is the lack of empathy. People don’t take the time to consider how people from both type 1 and type 2 diabetes feel and how things they consider normal may be more difficult for someone suffering from diabetes. I know that its harder for someone with diabetes to lose weight but I still see people making harsh comments, even if they know the person is suffering from diabetes.
So What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a lifelong disease that affects more than 1.25 million Americans and about 371 million people worldwide (with as many as 187 being undiagnosed). As many people know, there are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational. For the sake length, this page will be focusing on type 1 and 2 diabetes as they are the most common globally.
What’s the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is known as “adult onset diabetes”can be contracted at any age, but is most common in older (as in mature not elderly) people. Type 1 diabetes is known as “juvenile diabetes” and is contracted earlier in life. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system destroys the cells that would release insulin. Insulin helps to absorb sugar (glucose) and without it the body has trouble absorbing the sugar and thus has trouble creating energy. In type 2 diabetes, the body can still create insulin but has trouble using it properly (insulin resistance). As the disease progresses, the pancreas becomes weaker and weaker and produces less insulin (insulin deficiency). Episodes of low blood sugar are also much more common in people with type 1 diabetes; they are only present in type 2 diabetes if the patient is taking insulin or certain medications. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented but type 2 diabetes can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle.
The Technical Stuff
While many people are aware of diabetes, most do not know anything other than the fact that sufferers must take Insulin to counteract their symptoms. Insulin is an important hormone in our body, if you watched the video above then this information should make a little bit more sense. Insulin is created and exported (into the bloodstream) by the pancreas. Once in the bloodstream, insulin circulates and allows sugar to enter cells, in turn insulin is lowering the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. As your blood sugar level lowers the pancreas produces less insulin. Glucose is a sugar and is the main source of energy for the cells that make up your muscles and tissues. It comes from two main sources: food and the liver (stores + creates glucose). It is absorbed into the bloodstream (see above) and enters the cells. The liver also breaks down stored glycogen when your glucose levels (blood sugar) are low (can happen when you don’t eat) and uses the glucose monomers (of glycogen) to keep your glucose levels normal. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreatic cells that are meant to produce insulin do not function properly which means there is nothing regulating your blood sugar.
Who does it Affect?
Prevalence: the number of people in a given group or population who are reported to have a disease. In 2015, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the population, had diabetes.
Approximately 1.25 million American children and adults have type 1 diabetes.
Undiagnosed: Of the 30.3 million adults with diabetes, 23.1 million were diagnosed, and 7.2 million were undiagnosed.
New Cases: 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year.
Prediabetes: In 2015, 84.1 million Americans age 18 and older had prediabetes.
(Prediabetes is a preliminary stage of type 2 diabetes where the blood sugar is high, but not high enough to be listed as type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can still be prevented at this stage)
Deaths: Diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in the United States (in 2015), with 79,535 death certificates listing it as the underlying cause of death, and a total of 252,806 death certificates listing diabetes as an underlying or contributing cause of death.
Personally speaking, diabetes affects a relatively large part of my family. Both my dad and my two uncles from my dad’s side suffer from type 1 diabetes and have been living with it since they were teenagers. My brothers and I are also at a particularly high risk because of this family history but as of right now we have been lucky enough to not have any incidents. In the first GOA class I took, we were tasked with creating a service project based on someone we know who was suffering from a disease. I chose to work with my dad to create an exercise plan and help him get started. This project included conducting an interview with my dad about some of my general questions. Even if the questions were general, I got to understand a lot more about how this disease affects my dad and what I could do to help him handle it. There’s also a research and treatment page included in the presentation if you would like to know all the technical biological details of diabetes (both type 1 and 2).
What can you do?
There are many things you can do to help accomodate people with both type 1 or type 2 diabetes. I chose to create an exercise routine for my dad and help him commit to it, in this case it was playing Squash over the weekends but it can be anything really. Mountain biking, running, weight lifting, whatever you have access to really. As long as you are there to encourage them then it will probably become a positive experience for both of you. For me, it helped me get to know my dad better while also allowing me to learn more about diabetes and how it affects not only my dad, but other sufferers as well.
Encouraging a healthy diet and overall lifestyle can always be a nice way to help someone with diabetes. You don’t have to go as far as creating a meal plan for them, but showing that you really care about them and trying to help out can help promote a positive attitude for both you and the person you are helping. In general, if you are shopping for someone with diabetes try to check the amount of sugar in whatever you are buying and try not to buy much junk food (donuts, candy, generally unhealthy food). Be aware of what you eat in front of someone with diabetes, I know that I don’t always pay attention to this and it can sometimes make the person feel left out, especially at special occasions. I know my mom doesn’t buy junk food because she knows that it’s bad for my dad, but at the same time she makes good decisions on what he should be eating whenever she makes dinner or lunch for him to take to work. Just taking the time out of your day to show you care about what that person is going through can mean more than you can imagine. While you should be sure to encourage these lifestyle changes you should make sure that you aren’t nagging or being a hassle to the person.
Know the signs of high and low blood sugar levels. High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can present itself in people who don’t monitor their glucose levels as well as they should. Being able to identify these symptoms can help you make sure that person is properly taking care of themselves. The most common and obvious symptoms of hyperglycemia include:
– Extreme thirst
– Blurry vision
If someone you know has diabetes and you see them stumbling or notice them having trouble reading then you should provide a gentle reminder to watch their blood sugar levels. It may seem like a strange thing to do, but high and low blood sugar can be very dangerous to diabetics.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is much more dangerous than high blood sugar and can cause a few symptoms. The most obvious to notice symptoms include:
– Extreme fatigue
– Frequent yawning
– Speech and thinking problems
If you notice any of these in someone you know, be sure to remind them to watch their blood sugar levels. You could even go as far as getting them something like a soda or a candy bar to help raise their blood sugar levels. If you think that isn’t enough you can also encourage a visit to a doctor in order to make sure the issue doesn’t progress into anything worse.
If you want, here are some more resources to help you get some ideas:
And In The End…
Questions, Comments, Queries, or Concerns? Submit a comment below if there’s something you think I missed!
“Type 1 Diabetes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 7 Aug. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20353011.
Luerding, Jeffery A. “Case Study: A 57-Year-Old Man With Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, and Microalbuminuria.” Diabetes.org, journal.diabetes.org/clinicaldiabetes/v18n32000/pg132.htm.
Spollett, Geralyn. “Case Study: A Patient With Uncontrolled Type 2 Diabetes and Complex Comorbidities Whose Diabetes Care Is Managed by an Advanced Practice Nurse.” Diabetes Spectrum, American Diabetes Association, 1 Jan. 2003, spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/16/1/32.
“Types of Diabetes Mellitus.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diabetes/tc/diabetes-differences-between-type-1-and-2-topic-overview.
“The Endocrine System.” Diabetes.co.uk, www.diabetes.co.uk/body/endocrine-system.html.
“Statistics About Diabetes.” American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/.