Life at UCB through the eyes of our student bloggers

14 November, World diabetes day

14 November, World diabetes day

100 years ago, an important discovery was made, and it continues to save millions of people in the world: insulin. I am type 1 diabetic, and without it, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But my purpose is not to make you sad, but to inform you about what’s important to know.

I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions to explain how it works.

What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The pancreas beta islets that produce insulin are attacked by our immune system for unknown reasons. Type 2 is, in the majority of cases, due to lifestyle and food excess. In this case, the insulin produced is not enough, or the body cells don’t react how they’re supposed to. There are cases where diabetes is caused by pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer. Another (albeit temporary) kind of diabetes is gestational pancreatitis, which often goes away when the baby is born.

Sweets can save lives

Is your diabetes the bad or the good one?

There is no good or bad diabetes. They are different and bad or good in their own way.

Type 1 is insulin-dependent: we need daily and multiple injections to survive, depending on the food we eat. There’s no particular diet required, just a healthy diet, but that’s valid for everyone. The cons? With insulin injections, there is a higher risk of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. Hypoglycemia is when the blood glucose level is too low – the brain needs pure glucose to work, so it is life-threatening and needs a swift intervention.

Hyperglycemia is when the blood glucose is too high, and it needs insulin. There is more time for intervention with hyperglycemia, and usually, the diabetic person doesn’t need assistance. It can be life-threatening if the person doesn’t know they are diabetic because glucose can go so high that it can bring them into a coma (unfortunately, these things happen).

Type 2 doesn’t necessarily need insulin unless it gets worse, and it can be treated with other medications like metformin, but the diet is more strict in this case. Other drugs are available, and a better lifestyle can bring to remission.

An insulin pen: the modern insulin syringe

If untreated, both can bring long term consequences like blindness, kidney failure and amputations.

How many sweets have you eaten?

This is the most hated question, together with the affirmation “no, this is a dessert, you can’t eat it”. As I told you previously, the causes are not necessarily due to what someone has eaten, even if it is valid for most type 2 diabetes cases. Plus, in some instances (hypoglycemia), we MUST eat sweets.

How can I understand if I/my son/my dog has diabetes? (Yes, even pets can be diabetic!)

The most important signals are thirst, need to urinate continuously, hunger and irritability, or weight loss. If you wake up 5-10 times in the middle of the night to drink or go to the toilet, don’t wait and go to the GP. Especially with children, insist on having an immediate blood check and intervention, because in most cases, children have type 1 diabetes, which can be extremely dangerous.

If you wake up too many times during the night to go to the toilet or because you’re thirsty, tell your GP

How can I help if a diabetic person faints in front of me?

Forget the privacy and check if there is a glucometer and some candy in their bag. Check the glucose level if you find any glucometer and, if it is <4mmol/l or it is written as LOW, find some candy (not chocolate if possible) or regular coke or fruit juice to offer to that person. If the person looks aggressive, insist on the sweets. If the person faints, don’t try to feed them sweets as they can choke. If the sugar is too high (over 33mmol/l) and the person faints, you can’t do much except call the ambulance. Usually, if it’s too high, a diabetic person has enough time to intervene, so the best thing to do is offer water to help the kidneys.

An example of a glucometer

What’s the thing you have in your arm?

If you see someone with something stuck to their arm, it’s not a GPS, and it’s not a button for self-destruction: it’s a glucose sensor.

No, you can’t listen to music from it!

I like to speak about it, so I have the occasion to make people aware of this condition. Sometimes you can even see a wired device close to the waist: not an old fashioned MP3 reader but an insulin pump. These devices make our lives easier, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to plan or take precautions.

I am open to every kind of question you want to ask about diabetes – just leave a comment, or you can stop me in the Uni buildings and ask, or just have a look at

Thank you for reading – even if, I know, the subject wasn’t that light this time as the others!

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