This is a letter to all those who watch me and my fellow diabetes go through our daily routine, but still don’t quite understand what diabetes really is…so I’m here to break it down for you.
People with diabetes have uncontrolled blood sugar. Typically, the average person has a blood sugar range from about 80-130 that varies based on what you eat and when you exercise. Diabetics don’t stay in that range very well and are usually diagnosed because of an unusually HIGH level of blood sugar. That is not to say we cannot go low, because that certainly happens. High blood sugar happens because there is too much sugar and not enough insulin to manage it, and low blood sugar happens when there is not enough sugar and too much insulin. So really it is an overall maintenance problem, not just one way or the other. Anyone can test their blood sugar to see what they are at, though for diabetics it really is necessary to test with a testing kit a few times a day (or with a continuous glucose monitoring system, which can be worn on the body).
Low blood sugar = give them some sugar, stat! (the food kind) usually comes along with a combination of the following: dizziness, light-headedness, feeling hot, shaky, etc.
High blood sugar = sugar is the last thing they need, find the insulin. Usually comes along with a combination of the following: frequent need to pee, fatigue, blurred vision, etc.
Typically, there are “two types,” I put this in quotes for a reason. In the past few years, doctors have been more open to blurring the lines between the typical type 1 and type 2, because the truth is sometimes it’s hard to draw the lines. The reason for this is that when it comes down to it, everyone has their own specific case that can be best dealt with in different ways. My personal experience with diabetes is a prime example of the blurring of the lines.
Type 1 is typically categorized as “childhood” diabetes and type 2 as “lifestyle” or “age” onset diabetes. So you can imagine my confusion when my doctor told me at 18 years old that I most certainly had diabetes but it wasn’t from my lifestyle or aging, yet I also wasn’t a kid.
The truth behind the categories is the nature of each. What does that mean? Let me tell you. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease where the immune system (for some stupid reason) creates antibodies and decides to attack cells (the insulin producing beta cells) in the pancreas. This is completely different from Type 2, which is NOT autoimmune and instead is where the beta cells “forget” to produce insulin. It’s a difference of all out war between cells and then lazy cells.
So, if we are going to go by the usual categories, I would be a type 1 simply because I had the presence of antibodies in my system. To be type 2, I would most definitely NOT have these antibodies.
So now we go on to treatment…Since type 1 diabetics are incapable of producing insulin there is a necessity for injected insulin, usually through a pen or pump. Type 2 are sometimes suggested to use insulin injections (there is the blurring of the lines again) for more effective treatment. However, most rely on medicine that acts to essentially provide motivation for the beta cells to start working again. In any case, a good diet and exercise seem to help with maintenance.
I hope this mini-lesson helped you and also provides a nice read for diabetics to share with others who get (just a little) tired of explaining it.