Monday, 4 October 2010

how to explain diabetes

recently i've found myself attempting to answer all sorts of questions about diabetes - from friends and family alike. most of the time my diabetes goes unnoticed, but occasionally people will ask things like: what can you eat? how bad is your diabetes? how does it affect you? what is diabetes again?

i am SO happy when people ask me questions, because it means that they want to understand and learn more about diabetes. but sometimes, it can be tricky to explain it in a way people understand, especially as the cause is not known yet.

so, most people don't really have any idea what diabetes is, and if they do, they probably know more about type 2 than type 1 (or they never realised there were two types!). and they'll probably throw the word 'hypo' or 'sugar' in there as a way of attempting to sound like they know something. most people just look confused and very serious - they simply don't know to what level it affects your life or how ill it can sometimes make you feel.

when explaining diabetes i start with this simple explanation of the two types, so at least that's cleared up in their heads:
there are two types, one for young people - which is what i have, and one for older/larger people. type 1, for younger people, is where the body produces no insulin and it has to be put in with an injection or pump. type 2 has to be controlled with exercise, diet and tablets - these people usually have some insulin but it doesn't always work effectively.

from there, if they are listening, i continue with the explanation of what insulin does/is:
your body needs energy to work. energy comes from sugar and carbohydrate, you need insulin to turn food into energy. without insulin, all the sugar keeps going round in your blood, and you get very tired because you have no energy.

from then, i would probably explain an insulin pump, show them it and explain why i have it instead of injections. i might also explain why i eat a little differently to other people.

here are a few common q&a's:

so, what can't you eat?
actually, i can eat anything but i prefer to eat low/no sugar things and wholemeal products, because they are better for my sugar levels.

what's glycaemic index?
it's a measure of the speed of the carbohydrate. a high gi food would enter your blood stream very quickly and cause your sugar level to spike - this puts massive pressure on your pancreas to produce enough insulin quickly. low gi foods are released over a longer period of time, and are better for the body.

what is it like to feel low?
it's like being tipsy. i get dizzy and very energetic, then hot and sweaty and then i have to blink a lot to try to stay alert. i get very chatty and shaky. and i want to eat everything in sight.

why do you get really ill, and what does it feel like?
when my sugar level is high, i get really tired. i have a headache, and feel really thirsty. i become less responsive and less alert. this is usually caused by not enough insulin. and if it keeps going on, i can start to feel really really bad, because my body will try to use fat to create energy and this produces a toxin called ketones. i get very ill when these are in my body, and sometimes am sick or very faint.

explain ketones again?
these are a by-product of the body trying to turn my fat reserves into energy. they are a toxic waste product that harms the body.

most people never realise how serious a disease it is, because most people with type 1 manage it really well and without other people noticing there's anything different about them. so, occasionally i like to slip into conversation that i've been in hospital with it, and i could go into a coma or have a fit. that scares them into thinking it's kind of important! shock tactics sometimes work...

i realise this is only a few questions, so if you have any questions you want answered, or want to know how to answer a question someone else has asked you, please don't hesitate to ask me!