SWSMums interviewed Alana McDonald (Communications Manager) from JDRF to find out more about type 1 diabetes late last year. As its almost time for their annual charity/awareness walk, we thought we’d share an interview we did, to learn more about type 1 diabetes.
What is Type 1 Diabetes and why is it referred to as juvenile diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a life-long autoimmune disease with no cure, that affects over 120,000 Australians. It’s caused by the immune system mistakenly turning on itself, destroying the beta cells within the pancreas that produce insulin, a hormone which we need to process food. T1D is sometimes called juvenile diabetes because the disease often arises in childhood, but it can actually strike at any age. Some of the symptoms of T1D include extreme thirst, constant hunger, sudden weight loss, going to the toilet a lot (or a constantly wet nappy in babies), blurred vision, nausea, and vomiting. The best thing to do if you notice these symptoms in yourself or your child is to head to a doctor immediately.
Is there a cause for Type 1 Diabetes?
There is no known cause or way of preventing T1D, and it’s unrelated to diet or lifestyle.
What are the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
While type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition that is usually associated with modifiable lifestyle risk factors. In T1D, the pancreas can’t produce insulin, while in T2D the body becomes resistant to insulin and/or the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. T2D usually develops in adults over the age of 45 years, and can sometimes be managed with a combination of regular physical activity, healthy eating, weight reduction, or medication. Kids and adults with T1D must receive insulin either by multiple daily injections or by constant infusion via insulin pump, just to stay alive.
It can be frustrating for people with T1D when their condition gets confused with T2D, and they often have to deal with the stigma of blame, i.e. “Did you eat too much sugar?”, or questions around what they can and can’t eat. In short, people with T1D can still eat everything they could before, they just need to count the carbs in what they eat and give the correct dose of insulin. Ultimately we don’t want anyone with any type of diabetes to experience stigma, but for kids who couldn’t have done anything about their disease, it’s especially difficult.
How do T1 diabetics manage their condition?
Aside from taking insulin, T1D also requires close blood glucose management through finger-pricks around 6-8 times a day. Life with T1D can be scary, as when blood glucose levels fall outside of a ‘normal range’ due to an imbalance between food and insulin, a person can experience a hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) or hyperglycaemic (high blood sugar) response. It’s important to treat a ‘hypo’ quickly, making sure the person has something sweet to eat or drink, like jellybeans or juice, to stop blood glucose level from falling even lower. Untreated hypos can be dangerous and there is the risk of the person becoming unconscious.
These low and high blood sugar level reactions can also be affected by stress, exercise and illness, which shows just what a constant balancing act an average day can be for someone with T1D!
Where can parents go to find out more information?
For information about T1D and JDRF in general, check out our website at JDRF.org.au. We also have a wonderful new resource for families impacted by T1D — The T1Directory. It includes the best links from around the web, divided into topics like nutrition, school and education, support resources, and insulin pumps. Also check out our Facebook page here.