Monday, 7 June 2010

What is diabetes and how is it controlled?..In my own words

So, a few friends have asked me to explain what type one diabetes is and how i control it. A few have also mentioned looking at the internet and don't understand all the scientific terms. Thats what has given me the motivation to write this post and explain what diabetes is and how I control it in my own words. Warning: This post is quite long as I tried to fit everything in!!

So what is type one diabetes?
Basically it is an auto-immune condition. The three main causes of type one diabetes are environment, genetics and viral infection. In my case, my diabetes was caused from an absess which falls into the viral infection category. When my body tried to fight off the infection from the absess it was mistaking the infection cells with the insulin producing cells in my pancreas (these are the cells named islet cells or beta cells in the complicated descriptions) this is why it is an auto-immune condition. This resulted in me never making my own insulin again.

What is insulin then?
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas of a "normal" person. When you eat things containing glucose (that's sugar) the glucose is absorbed into your blood stream and then your pancreas realeases insulin which breaks down the sugar and turns it into energy for your body cells (such as muscle). You could think about insulin being a key which opens the doors to your cells to allow the sugar in. However, people with diabetes don't produce the insulin and therefore the doors to the cells arent open. This means that the sugar we eat just sits in our blood which can cause many problems as it causes your blood to become acidic. This is why diabetics have to inject insulin.

So why injections? Why not tablets?
This is quite a simple one. The acid in your stomache would destroy the insulin and an injection would take the insulin straight into your blood so it can work on the sugar straight away.

So can I eat sugar?
Simple answer, yes. I can eat sweets, chocolate, cake, biscuits etc as long as I inject my insulin for them. It may mean more injections to have a snack, but if i'm willing to inject extra, I can have the treat. Although it's advised not to eat too many hard boiled sweets or lollipops as the really high content of sugar means not all artificial insulin can cope with how quickly the glucose is absorbed into your blood. The same applies with sugary drinks as these are absorbed into the blood stream even quicker.

Hypos and Hypers?
These terms relate to high and low blood glucose levels. (This means the amount of sugar in the blood). Being Hyper (or hyperglycemic) means having too much sugar in your blood. There's not really any significant short term effects of Hypers other than a niggly headache, feeling lathargic and thirst. But the long term effects can be fatal. DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis), Kidney problems, Nerve problems, Heart problems and Eye problems. DKA is the process when your blood sugar is too high and your blood begins to turn acidic, this produces a by-product called Ketones, which are very harmful to the body. Being Hypo means having too little sugar in the blood. The short term effects of being hypo usually involve being dizzy, moody, sweating, shaking, feeling confused..however, these symptoms vary within each person. If a hypo is detected fairly quickly it can be sorted fairly easy with fast acting sugar such as full sugar cola/lucozade/glucose tablets and followed up a few minutes later with a slow acting carbohydrate to keep the level raised such as 2 biscuits. If the blood sugar drops too low and isn't increased it can cause a coma or even death.

So why are there different types of insulin?
There are two main types of insuling; fast acting and slow acting. (As well as mixed insulins which are usually used short-term to get used to having diabetes) A slow acting insulin is usually injected once a day (or twice in some cases) and releases a slow trickled over a 24 hour period (or 12). This acts as a baseline insulin to keep you quite level through-out the day. However, this baseline is not substantial enough to deal with the sugar you eat. This is where fast acting insulin comes in. This insulin is usually taken immediatly before or after eating and has a peak of around 3 hours to cope with the sugar that is being eaten. The amount of fast acting insulin depends on the amount of carbohydrates eaten. The ratio varies from person to person. I take 1 unit of insulin for every 10grams of carbohydrate I eat.

I think i've covered most things, however, if there's anything I have missed don't be afraid to ask and i'll write a new post :)

Lets widen the understanding and raise awareness!!!

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