The blue circle is the international symbol for diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2. Both are conditions marked by irregular blood sugar – as diseases, they live under the same roof – but they’re as different as Sherlock and Watson.
Most people with diabetes have Type 2, which typically occurs in adulthood and is often diet related. But 5 to 10 percent of people living with diabetes have Type 1, also called insulin-dependent diabetes. Because it is deadly if untreated and is on the rise worldwide, everyone should know the symptoms and how this autoimmune disease is managed.
Unlike Type 2, which develops over time, the onset of insulin dependent diabetes is sudden.. One day, you’re fine; the next, you’re experiencing fatigue, extreme hunger, frequent urination, blurred vision, tingling and numbness in your feet, and dry skin and mouth. You are nearing – or already in – the state called hyperglycemia, in which your blood sugar level is too high.
To add insult to injury, your own body has done this to itself, by destroying essential cells.
These cells would be the beta cells of the pancreas, and their job is to make insulin, the hormone that enables sugar to pass from the bloodstream to our cells. Think of insulin as a key that unlocks the door through which sugar passes, and then distributes energy to the millions of cells all over the body.
When insulin-dependent diabetes develops, however, the sugar can’t get through the door, because the insulin has gone AWOL. It is has completely vanished, or been largely diminished, because the body destroyed the beta cells that make it.
In this, insulin dependent diabetes is similar to other autoimmune disorders. For whatever reason, our immune system gets confused, and instead of just annihilating things that truly do us harm, they also go after parts that help us, like the extraordinarily important beta cells.
With the beta cells gone, we don’t make insulin. The key is lost. And unable to open the door to the cells, sugar backs up in the bloodstream. It’s a biological failure that, if unaddressed, can lead to health issues and some pretty serious complications.
How is Insulin Dependent Diabetes Treated?
Insulin-dependent diabetes can’t be prevented. There is no screening test that will reveal who will get it, and it most often strikes children and adolescents. (Although adults are diagnosed, too.)
But, while insulin dependent diabetes is a life-altering, chronic condition with no cure currently, it can be controlled, and with the introduction of new products, its management gets easier every year.
To treat it, all we have to do is replace the insulin our bodies are no longer able to make. To do this, we use syringes, pens or pumps to slip insulin under the skin. This is done either once, or several times a day, depending on the individual’s needs. While giving insulin is easy enough, we have to frequently monitor our blood sugar levels to determine the amount that’s right for us during the day. The right amount of insulin when we’re first diagnosed won’t be the same as the right amount the next year. And, to keep from going into a state of hyperglycemia – or its evil twin, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) – we need a steady supply.
We also need to monitor our overall health, watch our diet, and get exercise. But hey – that’s what people without diabetes are supposed to do, too, so no worries there.
Insulin dependent diabetes may sound scary – particularly if you’ve just been diagnosed – but there are far worse things to be dependent on. Cigarettes, for example. Or jelly doughnuts.