Thankfully, the life expectancy of those with type 1 diabetes has now been extended. However, it is still on average, eleven years less than a non-diabetic person. The extension in life expectancy, is attributed to pharmaceutical and medical breakthroughs, that have led to the discovery of more effective treatments for type 1 diabetes.
Today, there are two recognized treatments for type 1 diabetes:
Treatment Method 1
This is the most common treatment for type 1 diabetes. Insulin is injected by the person, to help regulate their blood sugar levels. However, the effect of insulin is short-term, and as the disease progresses, they may require higher dosages of insulin to control their blood sugar.
Insulin injections are also not always successful in preventing the complications of diabetes.
Possible side effects of Insulin Injections
Insulin injections can pose dangerous side-effects, if they are not administered and monitored correctly. An overdose of insulin may result in hypoglycemia, where the person’s blood glucose drops too low.
It is easy to recover from the effects of hypoglycemia. The patient needs to consume food or drink that contains a high level of sugar e.g. candies, soda etc. However, if hypoglycemia is not treated immediately, it may lead to severe and life-threatening complications.
Below are the signs and symptoms that may suggest a person is suffering from hypoglycemia:
- Excessive sweating
- Arrhythmia or rapid heartbeat
- Slurred speech
- Poor cognition skills
Another danger with insulin is ketoacidosis. The sudden introduction of insulin into the body, during ketoacidosis, may cause the blood sugar to plummet, which may result in hypoglycaemia. The sudden drop in sugar level may cause cerebral edema, which could cause the person to lose consciousness. It can even lead to coma or in the most severe cases, death.
This is caused when too much glucose is present in the blood stream. Temporary hyperglycemia is not an issue. However, if the condition becomes chronic, it can lead to other complications e.g. kidney, heart or retinal damage. Neuropathy may even occur. Treatment aims to keep blood sugar levels as close to normal, to avoid long term complications. This involves diet, exercise and medication.
Acute hyperglycemia, involving extremely high sugar levels, is a medical emergency. It may rapidly cause severe complications, for example fluid loss. It is more common in insulin dependent diabetics, that are uncontrolled.
Hyperglycemia can be a serious problem, if not treated in time. In untreated hyperglycemia, ketoacidosis can occur. Ketoacidosis develops when the body does not have enough insulin. Without insulin, the body can’t utilize the glucose for fuel, so the body starts to break down fats for energy.
Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate treatment. Symptoms include: shortness of breath, breath that smells fruity, nausea and vomiting, and very dry mouth. Chronic hyperglycemia injures the heart of patients and is also associated with heart attacks and death in people that have no previous history of heart disease or heart failure.
Treatment Method 2
Type 1 diabetes is due to a defective pancreas. If a healthier pancreas is transplanted into the body, it may be able to produce the insulin required and the person would no longer need insulin injections.
Many people hope a transplant will be the cure. However, this option is usually only recommended by doctors and experts, if insulin injections do not successfully control blood glucose levels. A pancreas transplant may cure type 1 diabetes permanently, but it can come with its own risks and complications.
According to studies, the body naturally prefers its native pancreas. If it is substituted with a new one, the risk of rejection is high. The patient’s life may be in danger, if this occurs.
How to Manage Type 1 Diabetes
Aside from insulin injections, there are certain things a type 1 diabetic needs to amend in their lifestyle, to avoid complications. Here are a few dos and don’ts.
• Get the right amount of sleep
The correct amount of sleep is important for everyone. However, if a Type 1 diabetic does not get the correct amount of sleep, complications can arise.
N.B: It needs to be “the correct amount of sleep.” A diabetic person should not sleep for too long a period, as it increases the risk of hypoglycemia. Blood sugar levels tend to drop, when the body is at rest.
It is dangerous if a person’s blood sugar level becomes critically low, while they are asleep. The body may not send signals to the patient’s brain to wake up. This may lead to life-threatening situations, like a coma.
If a person does not get enough sleep, they may suffer from hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), as the blood circulates faster when a person is awake. Though not as dangerous as hypoglycemia, it may still be life threatening.
Experts suggest that a type 1 diabetic should not exceed 7 hours of sleep, but not less than 5 hours. They may take some short duration naps during the day, but they should not exceed an hour, or the diabetic may be left feeling more tired.
This may be a difficult task for a type I diabetic as they can easily tire, but it is necessary. Type 1 diabetics should exercise more, if they want to lower the amount of insulin they require. Physical activity helps to process carbohydrates or glucose, so the more a person exercises, the less insulin they will require. Exercise also helps improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin, as a person burns calories doing physical activity,
• Observe a balanced diet
Since a type 1 diabetic cannot process glucose effectively, it is only logical that they should lower their sugar intake. Experts agree, that regardless of the nature of the person’s diet, they should be mindful of their carbohydrates and sugar intake.
It is recommended that diabetics eat small meals, every 2 to 3 hours, instead of eating large meals every 4 to 6 hours. This way, the glucose consumed is at a constant level. This limits the chance of experiencing hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic attacks.
Veganism and vegetarianism, may not be an appropriate diet for a type 1 diabetic, as they may require more nutritional value than can be found in veganism and vegetarianism. Regardless, it is recommended that all diabetics visit a nutritionist to help them tailor a suitable diet plan. Unlike Type 2 diabetics, type 1 diabetics have more difficulty gaining weight than losing it.
Things Diabetics Need To Avoid
• Skipping meals and eating large meals
Skipping meals is dangerous for a type 1 diabetic. Their body does not have the required glucose reserves. If they skip meals, they can deprive themselves of the glucose needed to remain healthy, and it could result in hypoglycemia.
Experts suggest that all diabetics, regardless of type, eat within an hour of waking.
Eating large meals should also be avoided, as it can cause a type 1 diabetic to have a spike in their glucose levels, which may result in hyperglycemia.
• Eating high sugar and refined foods
A type 1 diabetic cannot convert sugar into energy. Eating high-sugar foods will increase their blood sugar levels, and without counteracting this with insulin, it may become dangerous.
In addition, if their blood sugar level drops suddenly, after consuming high sugar foods, damage may occur in the veins and can even cause cerebral edema.
• Not monitoring the blood sugar regularly
For a type 1 diabetic, testing their blood glucose level should be done at least six times a day. It is usually tested after waking in the morning, before meals and before you sleep at night.
Blood glucose monitoring is more important for type 1 diabetics, than type 2 diabetics. This is due to the complications that a sudden change in blood glucose level might cause.