Understanding diabetes

Spot an overweight person shovelling sweets down their gob on the bus, and you'll possibly think 'I'm surprised they're not diabetic'. Diabetes sadly is not that simple...


Who gets diabetes?

Generally speaking, type 1 diabetes mainly affects children, although there are plenty of adult diagnoses. Type 1 diabetes is uncontrollable and unpreventable, the result of your immune system deciding to attack useful, insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. People with type 1 diabetes have to have regular insulin injections for their whole life.

Type 2 is more commonly diagnosed in adults. Unlike type 1, where the pancreas doesn't produce insulin, people with type 2 diabetes are resistant to the insulin they produce.

Spotting and preventing diabetes

One way to remember the symptoms of type 1 is through the four Ts: toilet (needing to pee all the time), thirsty, tired, and thinner.

The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes is to live healthily: cut down on processed food, eat plenty of vegetables, and avoid sugary drinks  and sugar-rich foods as much as possible. Couple this with exercise and you'll be well protected from type 2. It doesn't have to be much: a brisk 15-minute walk every day can significantly lower your risk.

Diabetes and the family

Both types of diabetes can have a big impact on family life, often in unexpected ways. Type 1 diabetes puts a lot of strain on a child, emotionally and physically. They will go through the early years of their life feeling at times excluded, different, and socially isolated. As a parent, you need to make them feel as comfortable and included as you can. This is easier said than done: inevitably, type 1 diabetes will place certain demands on your child's life. Sporting activity has to be carefully monitored (exercise makes blood glucose levels run low), and certain foods make it hard to control blood sugar levels. The trick is making it clear that your child can do anything a non-diabetic child can do, while also making sure they stay safe.

Things get even trickier if you have other, non-diabetic children: they can feel like the child with diabetes gets special treatment, while the child with diabetes feels excluded. Type 2 diabetes, in most cases, demands dietary changes and more exercise. It's hard to stick to these changes unless the people around you are doing the same, so the importance of family support can hardly be overstated. Look out for family cookbooks, so that everyone can eat healthily in a way that supports the diabetic family member.

Same goes for exercise: rigorous sporting activity is easier to stick to and more fun when done with those you love. Try going for a run as a family. Or, if that doesn't appeal, hire a tennis court (or a badminton court if you've got younger children - lighter rackets for littler hands). 

But above all, know the importance of emotional support. This is a lifelong condition that makes its presence known every day; from time to time, it really wears people down. Make sure they know that they're not alone, and that you're supporting them every step of the way.

Diabetes.co.uk is Europe’s largest patient to patient forum for people who are affected by diabetes. It offers people living with diabetes a platform where they can talk, share their stories and support each other.


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