When telling people that I’m diabetic, I’m sometimes faced with the question; “do you have the good or bad one?” My internal response to that is always a huge sigh of exasperation, however on the outside I hold it together and reply “there is no good or bad type of diabetes.”
Being diabetic is not an easy job and the endless stigma behind it is ruthlessly draining. The lack of knowledge the general public have about Diabetes also astounds me. It’s actually shocking how little people know about the condition. You’d think people would know more about it considering that more people in the UK are living with Diabetes than they are with Cancer and Dementia combined. Then again, I guess the argument is, that why would you know anything about Diabetes unless you’re a medical professional or you’ve been affected by Diabetes directly? Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t know anything. It was such a huge shock to myself and my family. Upon reflection, I wish that I had known what Diabetes was, because then maybe I would have been better prepared for it. I do remember being at Primary School and seeing a boy a few years above me who always got to have snacks. I always wondered why he was allowed to. Obviously, now, it’s so very clear that he was diabetic.
I do think that teaching the masses about Diabetes is ultimately so important. The more people know from the outset, the better chance they have at living with and handling the condition if they ever actually get it. I really do think that children should be educated in schools about Diabetes as there are so many children who are living with the condition and getting on with it at school. To other children, they must look like robots with wires hanging out of them if they have a pump, or even to see another child injecting could be quite a daunting and confusing experience for some.
Whilst at a resting job of mine yesterday, a security guard saw me injecting and said; “I didn’t know you were diabetic! I’ve got Type 2 but just have tablets. I have so much admiration for Type 1s having to inject.” I am very fond of this security guard anyway as he is such a lovely, caring and chatty individual. I felt really warm and appreciated after he’d told me his thoughts. It felt really positive to have some recognition for the thing that I have to do countless times on a daily basis. He really inspired me to write this blog and clear a few things up about the different types of Diabetes. It’s so important that people know about this and it’s important that as a community, we stop stigmatising Diabetes.
What is Type 1?
Type 1 Diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition where your pancreas can no longer produce the hormone insulin. There are less people living in the UK with Type 1 Diabetes than there are with Type 2 – the percentage stands at around 10%. It commonly occurs in children but can be diagnosed at any time.
Type 1 diabetes has nothing to do with eating too many sweets or having a poor diet. There are also not really any hereditary links with Type 1 either. (I was the first person in my family to be diagnosed with Type 1.) Professionals are not entirely sure what causes Type 1 Diabetes. However, they are thinking that it is connected to having a virus which could have caused your body to attack the insulin production in your pancreas. Type 1 is an autoimmune condition, the body begins to attack the cells that produce insulin and therefore your pancreas is essentially left as a useless organ. Without insulin your body cannot remove the glucose from your blood and transport it to your cells where it is used for energy – for an un-diagnosed Type 1 this can be life threatening.
Type 1 Diabetes is treated with insulin which comes in many different forms. For some injecting insulin may be the best way to treat their Diabetes, but for others having a pump or pod may help them to have better control. There are also different types of insulin such as bolus and basal.
Bolus insulin – Fast or rapid acting insulin which is used to control blood sugar after meals.
Basal insulin – Background insulin that works throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels stable when fasting.
For many Type 1s carb counting is the most efficient way of knowing how much to inject for what they have eaten. They match the amounts of carbs to how much insulin they need. E.g I am on a 10g:1mmol carb:insulin ratio, so if I consumed 50g of carbs I would inject 5 units of insulin. Everyone’s bodies are individual and for some the ratio will be very different.
Type 1 does not mean that you cannot have sugar or that you have to cut out lots of types of food. You can, in theory, eat whatever you like, as long as you can inject correctly for it and keep your blood sugar under control. It doesn’t stop you from living a normal life either. It’s all about looking after yourself – as are most medical conditions.
What is Type 2?
Type 2 Diabetes is also a serious and lifelong condition (which can be reversed for some) where your pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the insulin does not work correctly. (See? It’s different to Type 1 already!)
A whopping 90% of the diabetic community are Type 2s. Type 2 is also mostly diagnosed at an older age and is a gradual process, however younger individuals can also still be diagnosed with Type 2.
Again, like Type 1, professionals are not 100% sure what causes Type 2, but they do know that age, family history and ethnic background affects your risk of developing Type 2 and that it’s more likely that you’ll develop Type 2 if you’re overweight. This does not mean that all Type 2s ate too much rubbish and are overweight. That is just the way the media incorrectly portrays Type 2. Put it this way, you will not develop Type 2 if you attend an all you can eat buffet once in your life. Do not let the media skew your perception and understanding of Type 2.
Type 2 Diabetes can be controlled in many different ways. Type 2s can control their Diabetes by diet and exercise alone. If that becomes difficult they are usually transferred onto tablets called Metformin which are used to help to control blood sugar regulation. For some Type 2s moving onto insulin injections becomes the case if their blood sugar isn’t very well controlled by the other forms of medication.
It’s clear to see that Type 1 and Type 2 are similar, yet very different. They are equally as serious as each other and there is no “good” or “bad” type.
There are also other types of Diabetes that you may encounter throughout your life.
This affects pregnant women. These women don’t have Diabetes prior to their pregnancy and gestational Diabetes usually goes away once they give birth. Women usually get this because the hormones produced during pregnancy can affect how your body uses insulin.
If you want to find out more about the less common forms of Diabetes you can find out on the Diabetes UK website here.
If you do have knowledge about Diabetes and you ever overhear people making silly assumptions or batting round incorrect “facts” then please set them straight! It’s all about education and it’s so important that we are able to reach out and teach as many people as possible about Diabetes.