Long Term Living Condition
What can people with Diabetes do to improve their daily lives?
With over 350 million cases now diagnosed worldwide, diabetes is becoming ever more prevalent, with numbers continuing to rise year on year. Roughly 10% of the world’s adult population now have the condition, so what is diabetes, and what can people living with it do to improve their daily lives?
There are 2 main forms of diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2) and both are a condition whereby the level of glucose in the blood is too high due to the body not being able to process it properly. The body’s cells need glucose to use as a fuel, and insulin is required to allow the glucose to enter them. In the case of Type 1 diabetes, the body’s insulin producing cells have been destroyed and no insulin can be produced, meaning that glucose cannot enter the cells. With Type 2, the body either does not produce enough insulin, or produces an insulin which doesn’t work properly, and therefore only a limited amount of glucose can enter the cells, leaving an increased level in the bloodstream.
I spoke to Mr Stacey from Kent who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes over 30 years ago. “I didn’t realise it, but I was showing the classic symptoms of diabetes; I was losing a lot of weight very quickly (about 3 stone in 6 weeks), going to the toilet every half hour or so, I was constantly thirsty, and I was feeling tired all the time. My sister noticed that something wasn’t right so she took me to the doctor to get my blood sugar levels checked. As a rough guide, a healthy level is somewhere between 4.5 – 6.9mmol/L…mine was 75mmol/L! I was told that if I’d carried on the way I was going, I could have been dead within 2 weeks”.
Mr Stacey was taken to hospital, given insulin, and taught how, when and where to inject himself. This was to make up his daily routine from this moment on, taking a shot of fast acting insulin before each meal, and a slow release shot each night before he goes to sleep. He was also put into a controlled hypo so that he could get to know the symptoms and how his body would react, so if this happened outside the hospital he would recognise the signs and be able to take immediate action.
The hospital then recommended a strict diet for him as well as living a generally healthy lifestyle, suggesting that he quit smoking and only drank very moderate amounts of alcohol. For around 2 years, Mr Stacey stuck to the doctor’s advice, but he told me that, as he was working in a high-stress environment in the City which often included wining and dining clients, it was becoming harder and harder to maintain this lifestyle. He also said that he felt like the condition was beginning to take over his life, so, despite the fact that he knew what he should be doing, he took the decision to start living as he wanted to. “Having Type 1 diabetes is already limiting enough – you can’t be a train or bus driver, or generally anything which puts you solely in charge of the public’s safety. I have to renew my driving licence every 3 years and provide the DVSA with a medical report from my GP. I should wear an SOS bracelet or necklace with details of my condition inside it. If I go on holiday I have to make sure that I’ve got more than enough insulin with me, and I also have to phone the hotel to make sure that there’s a fridge in my room to store it in. I didn’t want diabetes completely taking over my life and I felt like it was, so about 2 years after being diagnosed, I went back to the same lifestyle that I had previously been living”.
If you have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you may well be prescribed insulin or other medication by your GP, but it is also really important that this is combined with making changes to your lifestyle in order to keep on top of your condition. Healthy choices such as getting active and a change in diet can play a major role in managing your diabetes, and this doesn’t have to be a negative thing; there is a wealth of healthy, nutritious and extremely tasty recipes available for people living with diabetes (see below for a fantastic beef goulash recipe provided to us by Diabetes UK) and you will be able to get many of these from your doctor, your diabetes nurse, or online from registered diabetes groups and charities.
“Diet is really important, and I have to admit that I haven’t been managing what I eat very well at all, and this really isn’t clever! I eat a lot of fatty foods and dairy – I love loads of butter in my sandwiches and I drink far too much milk. This isn’t a healthy thing for someone without diabetes to be doing, but for me it’s even worse. I run a high risk of losing my sight or even needing my feet amputated in later life because mismanagement of diabetes can lead to contracting blood vessels getting clogged with cholesterol and basically starving the flow of blood and oxygen to the eyes and feet. I’m worried about it so I do go for a regular quarterly check up of my feet, and I get my eyes tested at least once every year”.
“In spite of what I do, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with diabetes, I’d strongly suggest following your doctor’s advice. It’s much easier these days to control your intake of sugar – there are plenty of sugar-free alternatives around now which didn’t really exist when I was first diagnosed, so it isn’t worth taking the risks anymore. The thing that I struggled the most with was quitting smoking, but if you’ve got the will power, it’s definitely worth doing, especially with all of the things now available to help you give up”.