World Diabetes Day

I am the Technical Director here at ramsac and, I have Type 1 Diabetes. For World Diabetes Day I thought I would share my experience of Diabetes to help increase awareness of the condition.

Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.  When you eat, insulin processes the sugars that end up in your blood.   Without insulin, blood sugar rises to the point it starts damaging organs, in particular the nervous system, eventually leading to coma and death as the blood becomes increasingly acidic.   Unfortunately it’s entirely unavoidable, there’s nothing you can do either to reduce the risk of acquiring it, and it’s with you for life.

One hundred years ago the prognosis for someone with Type 1 Diabates wasn’t good, with a carb-free diet life expectancy was around 12 months.  In January 1922, a 14 year old boy called Leonard Thompson, who was dying from Type 1, was the first person to receive an injection of insulin, within 24 hours his blood sugars had dropped to normal levels.

Type 1 Diabetes is treated by constant testing of blood sugars and injections of insulin.  In the past blood sugar testing was via a fingerprick, but now I use a sensor that is implanted into the skin and replaced every two weeks, which I can scan with my phone.   Then I’ll inject insulin at least four times per day, sometimes a couple more, to try and mimic what the pancreas does naturally.   There’s nothing you can’t eat as a Type 1, but I generally avoid highly processed foods and sugar as it’s much easier to manage my blood sugars.

It’s important to be aware of the early symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes, in case you see these in yourself, a family member or friend.  Luckily I was diagnosed early as I was aware something wasn’t quite right.   I’d had the classic symptoms of constant thirst, needing to wee far more than usual (I was getting up at least once in the night, plus going a LOT during the day) and unexplained weight loss.  At the time I was even trying to eat more to stop the weight loss, but to no effect.  

The reason for the drinking and more frequent urination is that your body knows the concentration of sugar in your blood is too high, so it’s literally trying to dilute it.  Drinking a load of water is actually quite a good way for me to reduce blood sugars without injecting.    The weight loss is because your body can’t process what you’re eating, so the only way it can get the energy it needs to function is to basically consume itself.

In my case I’d been for a blood test in the morning and then went into the office, but rather than the usual five-day wait for a result, the doctor called me when I was on the way home and said I should go straight to A&E.   I actually felt fine at the time and it seemed weird lying on bed in A&E, but had I left it for another few weeks it could have been far more serious.   Unfortunately one of the first organs to be damaged by high blood sugars are the eyes (I have eye screening every year to pick up any early signs), and often the first sign people notice is vision loss, by which point irreversible damage has been done.

Low blood sugar can be just as dangerous, if not more so.   This happens when you inject too much insulin, which unfortunately is easily done if you over-estimate the amount of carbohydrate in a meal, or do exercise too soon after injecting.   The brain requires significant energy to function, and if there’s not enough sugar in the blood, it’s the first thing to be affected.   When I’m low my pulse races, I start sweating and can become confused.    

If you see a Type 1 Diabetic having a low, it can externally look like they are drunk.   They may be unsteady on their feet, confused, slurring their words and could pass-out, so be aware if you’re on a night out that it might be more than just someone who can’t hold their drink.   Treatment for a low is fast-acting carbohydrate, Type 1s should always carry something to treat a low, but sugary sweets, fruit juices or full-sugar soft drinks are good.   Obviously if someone is drifting in and out of consciousness stick to drinks to avoid the risk of choking, and obviously call an ambulance.   

You won’t do any immediate harm by giving a Type 1 sugar, even if they are genuinely drunk and not having a low, but never under any circumstances, inject a Type 1 with insulin, as it’ll make matters 100% worse if they are low.

Finally, if you or anyone you know is diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes it’ll be life-changing, but not life-ending.   Since being diagnosed I’ve continued to race bikes and canoes, both domestically and abroad, and I’ve never felt it’s limited what I can do.   It’s made some things more complicated with timing when I can eat and inject insulin, but I’ve learned to cope with it.

I’m always happy to talk about my experience with Type 1 Diabetes and hopefully this will help others who have recently been diagnosed or know someone who has Type 1 Diabetes.


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