If you have the autoimmune disease, type 1 diabetes (T1D), you rely on daily insulin to balance your blood glucose levels. Whether you’re new to the diagnosis or have been managing it for some time now, it’s important to know how to advocate and educate yourself on the disease.
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T1D affects 1.25 million Americans each year and is known as “juvenile diabetes” because it typically surfaces in childhood; however, it can be diagnosed at any age. T1D differs from type 2 diabetes (T2D) in that it’s an autoimmune disease where the insulin-producing cells are mistakenly destroyed by the body; whereas, T2D is a result of lifestyle factors related to a poor diet, obesity, and inactivity. Currently, there is no cure for T1D, and it must be managed with daily insulin injections or through an insulin pump.
Symptoms of T1D
The symptoms of T1D are not related to diet or lifestyle and is a result of the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin. There are early signs of T1D, but sometimes, it’s difficult to detect in a child or even in an adult because it’s easy to pass them off in relation to something else.
- Early signs may manifest as:
- Frequent urination
- Irritated and itchy skin
- Dry mouth
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Yeast infections
Other signs may appear as extreme fatigue, drowsiness, numbness and tingling in your extremities, sweet smelling breath, vision disturbances, and nausea and vomiting.
How T1D Is Diagnosed
If you or a medical professional suspect T1D, there are a handful of tests used to diagnose it, including:
Random blood-glucose test - This may be the first test your doctor uses, as it measures your glucose levels at that time — regardless of when you last consumed glucose. If further testing is needed, your doctor may use the tests noted below.
Fasting blood-glucose test - This is a quick blood sample taken after a night of fasting, so it’s done early in the morning. This blood test gives doctors an indication of what your blood glucose levels are doing while food (glucose) isn’t directly interacting.
Oral glucose tolerance test - This is similar to the fasting blood glucose test, but after the initial blood draw, you’ll consume a sugary drink and have your levels retested over the next two hours. This shows exactly how your body reacts with and without glucose present.
Glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) test - This is the most well-rounded and comprehensive blood test, as it measures your average blood-glucose levels over a two- or three-month span.
How To Manage T1D
Because T1D commonly surfaces in younger ages, it’s harder for kids to manage the disorder. People living with the disorder have to manage it around the clock, all day everyday, with insulin and also through diet and exercise. To monitor their blood-glucose levels, they have to draw their blood — roughly six times per day — or wear a glucose monitor.
Even when the person is managing the disorder properly and with great care, their blood-sugar levels can raise dangerously high or dangerously low. T1D can become life threatening due to a diabetic coma, or result in heart and blood vessel disease, neuropathy, and skin and mouth issues.
High Blood-Sugar Vs. Low Blood-Sugar
Although the signs of the two are different, the effects of either can be harmful.
High blood-sugar - Signs include blurry vision, stomach pain, thirst, sweating, and impaired cognition. Chronic high levels of high blood-sugar can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis that can eventually start to burn fat to use as an energy source.
Low-blood sugar - Sweating and shaking, lightheadedness, decreased coordination, problems concentrating, behavior changes, anxiousness and irritability, and hunger are all signs of low blood sugar. If levels dip too low, you can experience hypoglycemic seizures, coma, and unconsciousness.
Insulin is, hands down, a crucial component in managing T1D, but it is not a cure. Insulin balances glucose and keeps people alive, but it doesn’t prevent any of the side effects that comes with the disorder. The important thing is to be proactive and get regular checkups and adjust your diet to avoid using insulin haphazardly.
- Prevent blood-sugar imbalances with a healthy diet.
- There is not one prescribed T1D diet, but there are a few guidelines all medical professionals can get behind.
- Eat whole-foods that are largely unprocessed and lower in carbohydrates.
- Eat a large variety of vegetables and some fruits.
- Get plenty of fiber.
- Eat healthy fats and proteins.
Planning on when to eat
Planning when to eat is just as important as what to eat for diabetics. For a nice, evenly balanced blood-sugar, eating small meals throughout the day with a couple of snacks in-between keeps levels from waning. Ask your doctor or dietitian to calculate the exact insulin requirements so you can adjust what you eat and when you eat accordingly.
Always have healthy snacks on hand in case your blood sugar does take a dive, and take into consideration that physical activity lowers blood-sugar levels, so get a read on your levels before and after activity.
If you have T1D, managing it is important to live a healthy life! Know the symptoms and educate yourself about insulin, proper nutrition, and when to eat.