About type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease (a disease where the body’s immune system starts attacking its own cells). The causes of Type 1 diabetes are still be fully discovered but it is thought to have some genetic component. For some reason, the immune cells in the body start producing antibodies to destroy beta cells in the pancreas (an organ which is part of the digestive system), resulting in a decrease in the production of insulin (a hormone which allows the body’s cells to take in glucose, the main energy source of the body, from the blood).

The pancreas

Think of insulin like a key which allows glucose to be consumed by cells in the body and a lack of it, or too much of it, can have effects on the human body which will be discussed later.

About type 2 diabetes

Our understanding of type 2 diabetes has dramatically increased over recent years. While its key difference to type 1 diabetes relates to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes is caused by number of different pathways including liver disease, neurotransmitter dysfunction and pancreatic beta cell dysfunction to name a few. This is why its treatment involves personalised medication, lifestyle changes and multi-faceted approaches.

Since the 1920s, insulin is readily produced and can be injected into the blood. This enables millions of patients worldwide to be able to lead long and healthy lives. Discoveries are constantly taking place and with new modern technologies such as continuous glucose monitoring and insulin pumps, we are not far away from finding a permanent cure to this chronic illness.

However, in the meantime, constant care and management is required to manage this illness and its effects.  The key principles of diabetes management are:

  • Regular injection of insulin
  • Carbohydrate counting and healthy foods
  • Monitoring of blood glucose levels
  • Exercise
  • Frequent consultations with your diabetes team consisting of a doctor, diabetes educator, dietitian, and some other health or allied health professionals

This website created by Tom and Diabeasy will go through some of the key ways to not only manage, but succeed! 

Managing blood sugar levels

With a lack of insulin being produced by the body, the major effect that this has is inadequate blood sugar control. Glucose enters the bloodstream from the food we eat during digestion. Once the glucose is in the bloodstream it can be transported to cells which use this as a fuel to power bodily functions. However, with a limited supply of insulin, the cells cannot use glucose.

When first diagnosed, it is most likely because of symptoms resulting from high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). Hyperglycemia is when there is too much glucose dissolved in the blood. One of the side effects of this is that since the body cannot get energy from glucose, it starts to break down fats. When fat is used as an energy source, one of the products that is produced are ketones. It is important to make the distinction that people without diabetes on low-carbohydrate diets can have ketones in their bloodstream but for patients with diabetes, high blood glucose levels and the presence of ketones can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. This is where the blood becomes more acidic.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

In order to avoid hyperglycemia, insulin is injected in the body into subcutaneous tissue (fat).

The insulin is then able to enter the bloodstream and allow cells to consume the glucose present in the bloodstream, resulting in a decrease in blood sugar levels. Some people manage their blood sugar levels using insulin pens. Others use insulin pumps. It is important to ensure blood glucose levels are not too high to ensure no long term complications.
However, it is not only too little insulin that can have effects on the body. Too much insulin can result in a condition known as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This can be a medical emergency so needs to be treated rapidly.

Some of the low blood sugar symptoms include:

  • Shakiness
  • Mental confusion
  • Hunger
  • Unconsciousness

Hypoglycemia symptoms can be broken down into two categories: adrenergic (this is because low blood sugar triggers the body’s stress response which causes symptoms such as shakiness) or neuroglycopaenic (this is because the neurons need glucose to function without which can lead to symptoms such as mental confusion). Hypoglycemia can lead to unconsciousness which is why it is important to be treated rapidly.

Checking blood sugar level

Apart from continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), you can check your blood sugar levels through the use of a finger prick test.

Make sure to wash your hands before pricking your finger to ensure the results are accurate. The founder uses the Freestyle Optimum Neo blood glucose monitor sold in our store (https://diabeasy.org/product/abbott-freestyle-optium-neo-blood-glucose-and-ketone-monitor/) as it can measure both blood sugar levels as well as ketone levels.

Treatment of hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia can be very serious which is why it needs to be treated rapidly. When your blood glucose levels fall below a certain threshold (usually 4.0 mmol/l, although speak to your health professional about your own requirements), it is recommended to consume 10-15 grams of a fast acting carbohydrate such as sugar tablets or juice. The sugar tablets in our store are perfect for this (https://diabeasy.org/product/trueplus-glucose-10-tablets-raspberry/). After waiting 15 minutes, check your blood glucose levels and if still below 4.0 mmol/l, the procedure can be repeated again. If above, it is recommended to take a long lasting carbohydrate to ensure that hypoglycemia doesn’t occur again. However, it is important to recognise that everyone has their own unique routine and what may work for some, may not work for others in the treatment of hypoglycemia

If a patient is unconscious, then Glucagen has to be administered. This contains a hormone called glucagon which causes the immediate increase in blood glucose levels by telling the liver to convert glycogen into glucose. If this is used, then an ambulance must be called. Make sure that family members and friends are able to recognise when Glucagen is needing to be used and how to administer it.