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Top 10 Things to Know About Type 1 Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Month! What better time is there to talk about type 1 diabetes and spread awareness? I am very passionate about this topic, as I have been living with this disease since the age of 5! According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report (https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/statistics-report.html), 30.3 million people have diabetes, which is approximately 9.4% of the U.S. population. Only 5% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes are type 1 diabetes, affecting 1.5 million people worldwide. There are many other types of diabetes, including type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. If you would like to read more on the other types, click here for more info: https://idf.org/aboutdiabetes/what-is-diabetes.html. I will focus on what I was diagnosed with, type 1 diabetes, in this article. I hope you find this educational and can gain more of an understanding on how type 1 diabetes affects individuals!

What is it and how does it happen?

Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin. Insulin is a hormone that turns your glucose (essentially sugar) into energy in your body. The main cause for this type of diabetes is unknown, but genetics and certain viruses can play into it. A diabetic must receive insulin in another way because the body cannot survive without it.

What age is it the most prevalent?

Type 1 diabetes typically occurs in children to young adults, but anyone at any age can get it. It usually happens before the age of 40. The prime age for getting it in the United States is around 14 years of age. I was pretty young when I was diagnosed at 5 years old, so I have been living with T1D for about 14 years now.

What are the warning signs and symptoms of T1D?

Signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, feeling ill, feeling more hungry than usual, and cuts and bruises healing slower than normal. These are the most common signs, but everyone’s experience with onset type 1 diabetes is different and subjective to the individual.

How do you treat it?

Type 1 diabetes can be treated by going on insulin shots, insulin pens, or an insulin pump. I am on an insulin pump, but I started out by taking insulin shots from the ages of 5 to 8 years old. When I was on shots, I was taking around 5-8 per day and even more when I was sick. I like the pump a lot more because I only have to inject a new one every 3 days with a needle. Insulin must be given in some manner to regulate blood glucose levels throughout the day and when a diabetic eats or drinks carbohydrates. Also, a well-rounded diet and exercise is important in staying healthy with type 1 diabetes. Some diabetics also use a continuous glucose monitoring system that can hook to a monitor or app on their phone. It basically is a device they insert into them that has a small line similar to fishing line that goes 1 centimeter under their skin to read their blood sugars. This helps them regulate them and graph trends of when their blood sugars are in and out of range.

What is a low blood sugar?

A low blood sugar is when the bloodstream does not have enough glucose present. Symptoms of this are different for everyone, but common ones are: weakness, shakiness, blurred vision, feeling out of it, paleness in the face or cheeks, and more. A low blood sugar would be a reading under 80 mg/dL. Low blood sugars mean someone needs to eat or drink something with fast-acting sugar in it. This could be a juice box, candy, glucose tablets, fruit gel packs, or natural sources like dates or bananas. Every diabetic has certain low treatments they go to in times like this. The diabetic should sit down and recheck their blood sugar in 15-20 minutes to see if their blood sugar is back in normal range.

What is a high blood sugar?

A high blood sugar is when too much glucose is present in the bloodstream. This would be a number over 200 mg/dL. This can happen if a diabetic eats something with a large amount of carbs or sugar in it to cause the blood sugar to spike, when a pump malfunctions and does not give insulin, someone forgets to give insulin, someone does not give enough insulin, as a result of stress or anxiety, if someone is ill or sick, and many other reasons. This is treated by giving a higher dosage of insulin than normal called a “correction” to bring the blood sugar back down to normal range. Eating low carbohydrates and drinking lots of water during this time is very important. If a blood sugar goes too high, someone can start dropping ketones or go into something called “DKA,” or diabetic ketoacidosis, which is essentially a life-threatening diabetic coma.

What is the difference between bolus and basal?

Bolus is the type of insulin a diabetic administers when correcting a high blood sugar in order to lower it or when they eat or drink something with carbohydrates in it. It is manually entered through the pump or injected with a syringe. If someone is on a pump, they can adjust the correction factors (for high blood sugars) and their insulin to carb ratios to know how much to bolus for meals.

Basal is the small increments of insulin given per hour throughout the whole day that stabilizes blood sugar levels. Having these small doses of insulin every hour keeps blood sugars in range since the pancreas does not give any. These settings can also be adjusted with one’s endocrinologist, depending on the individual’s needs.

How do you use a glucagon shot?

A glucagon shot contains liquid in a syringe and a vial with glucagon powder inside. It is administered when a type 1 diabetic goes unconscious from a severe episode of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This is an emergency situation and can be life-threatening. Every second counts in this kind of situation and bystanders must act quickly to save someone. A type 1 diabetic should carry a glucagon shot kit with them everywhere they go in case of emergency and make sure their loved ones know how to administer it.

How to use one:

1) Flip the seal off of the vial of glucagon powder.

2) Remove the needle cap off of the syringe.

3) With the needle facing down, push the needle into the rubber stopper of the vial, and inject all of the liquid in the syringe into the vial.

4) Remove the syringe from the vial and swirl the vial around to mix the liquid and powder solution together. Make sure the solution is clear and totally dissolved before proceeding.

5) Insert the needle back into the vial and flip it upside down so the needle is facing up with the vial facing down. Withdraw all of the liquid back into the syringe. 

6) Use an alcohol wipe, alcohol swab, or cloth to cleanse a site on the buttock, arm, or thigh. Inject the entirety of the solution into the person and withdraw the needle. Apply light pressure against the site when complete.

7) Turn the person on his or her side immediately as the person may vomit after waking from being unconscious. Call 911 immediately after you do this to have medical professions on their way to help this person get to the hospital if needed.

8) When the person wakes and is able to swallow properly, give him or her a fast-acting source of glucose, such as fruit juice or icing, followed by a snack containing both carbohydrates and protein.

For more info and instruction about glucagon shots, click here: https://www.lillyglucagon.com/taking-glucagon/how-to-inject.

How does it affect someone’s physical and mental health?

Diabetes can greatly affect one’s physical and mental health. Managing diabetes 24/7 can be very draining! You don’t get a break from it. It is mentally wearing some days when everything seems to be going wrong with your blood sugars and carb counting. Sometimes your site may rip out or you may have a high blood sugar that won’t come down no matter what you do. You may feel nauseous and have a headache. Anxiety and depression can be linked to diabetes because it is so stressful sometimes. Diabetics are warriors that fight a daily battle!

How can I help a type 1 diabetic?

There are many ways you can show support for a loved one living with type 1 diabetes. You can make sure to carry snacks or treatments on you if their blood sugar goes low if you are frequently with them. You can teach yourself how to use a glucagon shot if they would ever need it in an emergency. You can offer to help them or lend a hand if they are struggling with bad blood sugars one day. Offer to get them a glass of water or a juice box if they need it. Also, don’t be afraid to ask them about what they go through and about diabetes. Most diabetics love spreading awareness about their disease and educating people about it. If your loved one does not feel comfortable sharing anything, do not pressure them, but rather let them know you are there for them if they ever need someone.

I hope this article informed you more about type 1 diabetes and let you know how to better support your loved ones living with this disease! Help spread awareness this month during National Diabetes Month! 

HCXO, Rachel

Rachel Ritchey

Millersville '23

Rachel Ritchey is a junior public relations major at Millersville University. Rachel is involved in Her Campus Millersville (social media director), the All Campus Musical Organization, PRSSA, and Navigators. She is passionate about type 1 diabetes awareness, social media management, music, mental health, and self-care. ♡
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