Sugar and spice, not all that nice for diabetics

Nicole Schroeder

With approximately 1.7 million people diagnosed with the disease each year, diabetics make up 9.3 percent of the American population according to data released by the American Diabetes Association in 2015. To increase understanding about the effects of this lifelong disease on those who have been diagnosed, tomorrow, Nov. 14, is National Diabetes Awareness Day.
For sophomore Anna Slade, however, diabetes awareness is much more than a single day of grey awareness ribbons, the color of diabetes awareness. For her, it is a lifestyle of finger pricks and insulin, of high and low blood glucose levels and constant corrections to keep those levels stable. Slade was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when she was in kindergarten and said she found the adjustment to managing her diabetes was a difficult one at first.
“I had not been feeling good, I was always hungry and thirsty and I had to use the bathroom more than usual, so my mom took me to get checked out and I was sent to the hospital shortly after that check-up,” Slade said. “The adjustment was, for me, was at first really difficult but soon I learned to schedule what I was eating and when I would take my medicine, and it just became routine.”
Since her diagnosis, Slade has learned to control her blood sugar through a mix of regular blood glucose checks and insulin injections, as well as through managing her carbohydrate intake and eating at regular intervals.
“My daily care for diabetes begins when I first wake up. I begin by checking my blood sugar and taking medicine for my carbohydrates I will be eating for breakfast. I check my blood sugar every time I eat any carbohydrates, anytime I exercise, feel sick or shaky, after I wake up and before I go to bed,” Slade said. “I use an insulin pump that gives me my medicine and functions a lot like a personal IV.”
Type 1 Diabetes is one of two forms of the disease that refers to the specific problem the body has with insulin. While Type 1 Diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin pancreas, in affect, shutting down, Type 2 Diabetes refers to those whose bodies produce insulin but simply cannot produce enough to regulate their own blood sugars.
Slade’s management of her own diabetic needs is fairly general for all those diagnosed with both forms of diabetes, endocrinologist Michael Gardner said. Without this monitoring, however, multiple problems can arise in response to blood sugars that are too high or too low for a period of time.
“Both types of diabetes can cause other health problems if the sugar levels are not controlled. Most of these problems are actually caused by damage to small blood vessels,” Gardner said. “Once the small vessels are damaged the tissues they supply are damaged. Most commonly this is seen in the sensory nerves of legs and feet, the kidneys or the eyes.”
In spite of the many issues and the demanding daily care regimen one can face with diabetes, nurse Tammy Adkins said the students she sees with the diagnosis are all able to lead a relatively normal life in spite of their daily diabetic care. Even so, there are times caring for a student’s blood sugar levels can cause difficulties for him or her within the classroom.
“At school there are many ways diabetes can impact in the classroom. The most obvious are the treatment needs — blood sugar testing, insulin management and scheduled snack times that need to happen regularly and could mean time loss from the classroom,” Adkins said. “Another aspect at school that can be impacting is thinking and concentrating within the classroom. When a blood sugar is out of range, especially in the lows, brain functioning or thinking can be affected but every diabetic is different on how fast they recover. Some students might be ready to get back to work within 15 minutes of a low. Others might take an hour to feel like they are back to full functioning.”
For those who don’t understand why these blood glucose checks and regular snack times occur, however, Gardner said there are a few misconceptions within the public eye about the diagnosis and management of diabetes.
“There are quite a few misconceptions about diabetes and most of them are about type 1 diabetes.  The first is that people with [Type 1 Diabetes] have shortened lives and are sick,” Gardner said. “Most people with [Type 1 Diabetes] can live normal healthy long lives as long as they take care of themselves.  They can do anything that people without diabetes can do — the only exception is joining the military and commercial airline pilot in the US.  They will need to work harder to maintain their health, but it is quite doable.”
Adkins agrees with Gardner. She said people often think diabetics are unable to eat sugary foods in their diet or that they must have eaten too much sugar in order to develop diabetes in either form of the disease. In actuality, she said, only Type 2 diabetics can develop the condition from their lifestyle choices or their diet, and all people with diabetes are able to continue eating the same foods as those without the disease with proper planning and care.
“They don’t need to cut sugar completely out of their diet,” Adkins said. “In the school system, we have a plan in place that was developed by or with the physician, parent and student for care of highs and lows that are student specific.”
While there is some confusion about diabetics can eat or how the disease develops, however, Slade said she simply wishes people knew she isn’t limited in her diagnosis from doing anything that other people can do.
“Diabetes hasn’t really given me any restrictions. I just need to be extra cautious as I participate in activities that others can do and maybe don’t have to worry as much about,” Slade said. “When my blood sugar is low, I am not able to function properly, but with taking sugar I can easily fix the low blood sugar and function right again.”