Dealing with diabetes

It’s Diabetes week, which hopes to raise awareness of this common condition. Abi Jackson asks those in the know for their advice on living with it.

  • Someone being tested for diabetes
    Abi Jackson
    By   | Writer
    Last updated: 13 June 2014, 15:21 BST

    Around three million people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes, and it's believed figures could reach five million by 2025.

    Every three minutes in the UK, somebody is diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Both types can lead to devastating complications, including blindness, amputation and kidney failure.

    Type 1 diabetes: This is believed to be an autoimmune disease with possible genetic factors, and it can occur at any age but most often starts in late childhood.

    • With this type, the body destroys its own insulin-producing cells, so people have to inject insulin daily in order to regulate their blood sugar levels.

    • Symptoms include feeling extremely thirsty, frequent need to urinate, excessive tiredness, frequent skin infections and unexplained weight loss.

    Type 2 diabetes: This is far more common, making up 90% of all cases.

    • It's Type 2 which is linked to lifestyle, with being overweight or obese the biggest risk factor. It mostly affects over 40s and the elderly, though in people of black or South Asian origin, known to be at higher risk, it can occur in people as young as 25.

    • Symptoms are similar to Type 1, though weight loss isn't usually seen. However, unlike Type 1, the signs can progress slowly over time and it's believed there are thousands of people with Type 2 currently undiagnosed.

    • Healthy diet and lifestyle are crucial for controlling it, but medication may also be required.

    The NHS spends £10 billion (10% of its entire budget) on treating diabetes, 80% of which goes on treating complications.

    The good news is that these can be avoided, providing people manage their condition well and have regular check-ups to spot the early warning signs of problems.

    Here, three people share their advice on living with the condition:


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  • Child having an injection
    Abi Jackson
    By   | Writer
    Last updated: 13 June 2014, 15:21 BST

    Pav Kalsi is a clinical advisor for the charity Diabetes UK.

    Thousands of children in the UK have Type 1 diabetes. Getting to grips with the regular blood sugar checks and insulin injections can be a huge challenge.

    "Diabetes can be a worrying time for both the parent and the child," says Kalsi. "It's completely normal to feel anxious or worried, but it isn't the end of the world.

    "The first few injections will probably be a bit uncomfortable, as you will both be tense and anxious. But as your confidence grows, it will become easier. Remember that even when your child is competent in doing the injection, they may not want the responsibility all the time, so be prepared to do them yourself."

    Dealing with diabetes in kids:

    • Tell your child's healthcare team about your fears - they may be able to put your mind at rest.

    • Talk problems through with your family and try to reach solutions together. If you have other children, try to involve them, too.

    • It's natural for your child not to want to miss out on school activities or sleepovers with friends, and diabetes shouldn't stop them; it just requires a little more planning.

    • Talk to teachers and other parents and make them aware. Make sure they have a phone number for you and ensure your child has everything they need.

    Diabetes UK offers a wealth of support and information for parents, and their website has a great kids' section


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  • Cyclist Stephen Clancy
    Abi Jackson
    By   | Writer
    Last updated: 13 June 2014, 15:21 BST

    Stephen Clancy is an Irish cyclist with Team Novo Nordisk, the world's first all-diabetic pro-cycling team. 

    For teenagers diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, it can feel like your life's been turned upside down.

    This is how Clancy felt when he was diagnosed last year aged 19. But now, 14 months on, he's in control of the condition and says it's changed his life for the better, and he hopes to inspire others.

    "I've loved cycling since I was young and competed in my first race at 16," he explains. "Being diagnosed with Type 1 was a huge shock. I assumed diabetes affected people who ate too much sugar, not people like me. I thought, 'That can't be right, why me?' I already ate healthily and I don't drink or smoke, so I thought it was unfair."

    Clancy's a member of Team Novo Nordisk, made up solely of athletes with Type 1 diabetes, which was set up to inspire and raise awareness of the benefits and importance of sports in diabetes management.

    He did cut down on cycling initially. Having to stop and take his blood sugar readings every 20 minutes made getting back into training difficult, but these days that's not a problem.

    "When you're exercising, your muscles are using that glucose and sugar that you take on board in your meals," says Clancy. "Everyone is different but for me, as I exercise, it means I don't need as much insulin with the meal beforehand, or with the meal afterwards."

    "And my insulin will work better if I exercise, so for me it's a very positive thing."

    Now 20, his teenage hobby has become his profession and Clancy competes all over the world.

    "I'd advise anybody who's coming to terms with diabetes not to get bogged down if you have a bad day; it's not an exact science.

    "Even the guys who've had it for 20 years are still adapting and figuring things out. All you can do is try your best. It takes a while but you can get it under control.”


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  • Woman being tested for diabetes
    Abi Jackson
    By   | Writer
    Last updated: 13 June 2014, 15:21 BST

    Alison Freemantle is a pharmacist at Lloydspharmacy, which offer free Type 2 screening services in more than 1,500 UK pharmacies.

    Over the last 10 years, Lloydspharmacy have screened over 1.5 million people for Type 2 diabetes. They also offer advice services.

    "Often people come to us and say, 'I've been told I have diabetes, now what do I do?'" says Freemantle.

    "Diet is usually a first concern. Many think they're not allowed any sugar but that's not really the case; there are sugars in lots of healthy foods.

    "Everybody who's diagnosed should see a dietician but that can take a few weeks. It's really about eating a healthy, balanced diet, like we all should. But it's important people understand how food's going to affect them."

    Understanding the side effects of diabetes

    • A big problem with Type 2 is people running out of medicines, or not taking them, particularly older people who might have quite a lot to take - for diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol.

    • It’s important to check your feet for numbness, soreness and redness. If ulcers aren't treated quickly they can eventually lead to amputation. It can be difficult for older people who can't bend down to see their own feet. If that's the case, ask someone else to check for you, or use a mirror.

    • Eye health is another potential complication area, as is high blood pressure and kidney disease. Thorough annual health checks are a vital part of management for everybody with diabetes.


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