Imagine that you feel nauseas, thirsty, and frequently have to urinate. You go to the emergency room and are instructed to urinate in a cup. You are surprised to see the nurse taste your urine! Although this sounds strange, this is how diabetes was diagnosed well into the 20th century. There have been many new developments in Diabetes research in the past 50 years, but it is still a dangerous disease. Things that you and I take for granted, like eating or exercising, can be dangerous for a diabetic. I have first hand experience with this disease, my 12 year old daughter Taylor suffers from it.
When my daughter was diagnosed, I didn’t know much about diabetes. I have found that many people don’t fully understand it. Because diabetes is on the rise in this country, I believe it is important for everyone to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of the disease, and also understand the treatment needed. The more people that have this information, the more lives can be saved. I will explain why diabetes occurs, the symptoms and treatment of diabetes, and the everyday dangers that diabetics face.
To begin, I will explain why type 1 diabetes occurs. As explained by JDRF.org, in a person without diabetes, an organ called the pancreas produces insulin. Insulin is a hormone that changes glucose in the blood into energy. We get glucose in the blood from food and drinks. If a person eats a lot, the pancreas makes a lot of insulin, if the person eats a little, the pancreas makes a little insulin. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. That means that for reasons we don’t yet understand, the body’s healthy cells are attacked by it’s own immune system. In a type 1 diabetic, the person’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the blood causing high blood sugar. The symptoms of this are, as I mentioned before, frequent urination, being thirsty, and feeling nauseas. If left untreated, this can lead to coma and death.
Diabetics must test their blood sugar often, in order to treat blood sugar that is too high or too low. We have come a long way from having to taste urine to test blood sugar. According to Melissa Sattley, the first portable glucose meter was created in 1969. It was quite large, weighing 3 pounds, they have evolved now to the size of a cell phone. People with type 1 diabetes must test their blood sugar at least 4 x’s a day. My daughter tests hers 8-10 x’s a day. Imagine sticking a needle in your finger 8 times a day! A healthy blood sugar number is between 70 and 150.
This leads to treatment of type 1 diabetes, insulin. In order to avoid high blood sugar, type 1 diabetics must inject insulin with a needle or through an insulin pump. Those that use needles must inject a long acting insulin once or twice a day, and inject a short acting insulin every time they eat or drink anything that has carbohydrates. Carbohydrates turn into glucose in the blood. An insulin pump is about the size of a cell phone. It has tubing that must be inserted into fatty tissue in the body. The tubing stays in place and must be changed every 2 days. The insulin passes from the pump through the tubing and into the diabetic’s body. It can be difficult to know how much insulin a diabetic needs. The amount of insulin given before eating depends on the amount of carbohydrates in the food. This can be difficult to figure out, and not all restaurants have accurate nutrition facts available. Stress, illness, exercise, and even childhood growth can also affect a person’s insulin needs. If too much insulin is given low blood sugar occurs. The person will feel shaky, sweaty, and disoriented. Some people can become violent and some have seizures. When this happens the person needs to have juice or candy containing sugar or carbohydrates immediately. Now on to the everyday dangers diabetics face.
Many of the things that most people take for granted can be very dangerous to a person with type 1 diabetes. As I mentioned before, dosing too much insulin can be very dangerous. With diabetic children, it can be difficult to guess how much of a meal they will actually eat. If they are given insulin for a whole piece of pizza, it is important that they actually eat a whole piece of pizza. Otherwise they will have low blood sugar.
Exercise can also be dangerous, because exercise expends energy. Energy is made from glucose. Therefore, exercise causes blood sugar to go down. Diabetics must always keep juice or candy nearby when exercising. They must test their blood sugar frequently.
Most of you probably enjoy going out for a drink on the weekends. For a diabetic this can be deadly. Alcohol is high in carbohydrates. Normally a diabetic can have high carb foods occasionally as long as they give the right amount of insulin. Alcohol is tricky because after a couple of hours, alcohol causes blood sugar to drop rapidly. If a diabetic drinks too much, they may not sense the change in their blood sugar and be able to treat it in time. If you have a friend with diabetes, please be sensitive to the fact that they should not drink alcohol.
In conclusion, a type 1 diabetic’s body doesn’t make insulin, so they need to inject it. High Blood sugar displays as being thirsty, frequent urination, and nauseas. Low blood sugar displays as being shaky, sweaty, and disoriented. Both are very dangerous and need to be avoided. A diabetic must take a fingerstick using a blood glucose monitor at least 4 times a day to monitor blood sugar. Diabetics need to use caution when dosing for food, exercising, and a diabetic should NEVER drink alcohol. As a mom of a diabetic child, I hope everyone will learn these simple facts that could save a life, please remember and pass on this information.
Sattely, Melissa. “The History of Diabetes”, Diabetes Health and Wellness 1996.