My ride started in 1999, when I was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (DM), a form of diabetes that is mostly genetically determined and appears within a lifetime. The specific causes are unknown and there still needs to be a lot of research done, whereas diabetes type 2, which most of you certainly got in touch with already, is caused by high body weight and insufficient exercise. It is far more familiar to you, because 90 percent of diabetics are type 2. So, I’m in the minority of 10 percent, which is no problem at all, but you should get a better insight into this widespread, booming disease - it can strike anyone! In the last five years, about four people of my close surroundings got affected.
What’s the definition of diabetes type 1?
Insulin is a hormone that is produced in our bodies by special cells, the beta cells, which are located in the pancreas. We need it to transport blood sugar/glucose into different cells, where it is stored and used for energy later. The cells of type 1 diabetics only produce little or no insulin at all. In my case, the beta cells don’t produce insulin anymore, which is due to the long duration of my affection. The main problem occurs when our body doesn’t get enough insulin anymore: Glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead of going into the cells, that’s why our body is unable to use the glucose for energy. The automatism of the pancreas intermits. This leads to the symptoms of type 1 diabetes mellitus.
What symptoms do you suffer from?
While most people lose weight, have a stronger urge to urinate, feel increasingly thirsty or hungry, my parents noticed that I excessively drank water when I was about two years old. The reason for this is that the body tries to excrete sugar through urine and therefore requests liquid. We went to hospital where we were told, that my blood sugar was about 800 mg/dl, which is approximately seven times higher compared to the regular.
What’s the therapy?
At the moment, scientists and doctors have not found a cure for type 1 DM yet. The only way to keep your blood sugar rather steady is management. You will try to keep your blood sugar level as stable as possible, without causing too high or too low blood sugar. This target level of blood sugar differs between people because of various balances. Blood sugar is normally measured in milligrams of glucose per decilitre of blood (mg/dl). For people without diabetes, a good blood sugar value should be under 100 mg/dl, but may also reach from 80 to 140, depending on whether you measure before or after your meal. As a diabetic, my recent target area reaches from 110 to 180, because I’m quite prone to heading towards a hypoglycaemia. - I will elaborate this topic next. For all this, I need Insulin, which I inject approximately up to 10 times a day. I got three different substances, each adapted to my therapy with divergent duration of effect. Basically, it’s a hormone that lowers the glucose level. Also, I often get the question, if injection hurts: No, it doesn’t hurt at all. The needles are much thinner and shorter than the ones of vaccine injections.
What’s the big deal?
When your glucose level gets higher than normal, which is also known as hyperglycemia, it starts to cause inflammation in blood vessels and nerves. So you don’t want high blood glucose levels, it feels like your whole body is overly acidified. On the opposite, risking low blood sugar levels will have similar effects. Trouble talking, clumsiness, confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures or, if you suffer from a very intense long-term hypoglycemia, it can also end lethally. Inflammation in blood vessels and nerves is where all the complications of diabetes come from, so management is key for my life.
How do you deal with it in your life?
Modern time brought many improvements in medical technology and knowledge. While people of the twentieth century had to inject insulin mostly of pigs’ pancreases, my Insulin is chemically produced. Today, it’s possible to manage your glucose level really precisely, however, it correlates with a strict observance of your therapy. Many people ask me if I wasn’t quite busy checking and regulating my blood sugar all the time. In my opinion, it’s something like routine or a background process, that is always on my mind (at least most of the time). I’m one of a few people that have a glucose monitoring system paid by health insurance. In Austria, you need to undergo a long process at the right health insurance provider to get it for free, otherwise, it will cost an invaluable price every month. With other words, you could definitely buy a couple of new iPhones with the money.
What I am speaking of is the Dexcom G4. It’s my personal glucose curve divided in dots, every dot showing my current level at an interval of five minutes that are sent from a sensor placed under the skin of my arm to a device as big as an iPod wirelessly. It will alert when I’m too high or too low, going upwards or downwards. Without it, it’s like blind flying, because you just have certain points of your glucose curve, which tell you nothing about the level in-between. You would only recognize your bad management by looking at your HbA1C, which is barely the long-term blood sugar. What I like the most is that I’m able to put my focus on other things than my glucose level. When I was young, my parents had the exhausting job to measure my level every hour, also at night! I’m very grateful for that, but today I couldn’t imagine doing this all by myself (even though the new therapy would allow it every two hours now). As you can see, my continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) affects my quality of life enormously. Just think of driving the car, doing sports or studying without it.
So what’s the problem about studying without it? Certainly, your blood sugar level has a great influence on your brain activity, thereby also on your performance. Based on my experience, glucose levels beyond the optimum can result in a lack of performance of up to 50 percent, which might entirely forbid you to get your things done properly. My CGM helps me to reduce this risk.
Apart from that, I’m keeping my alcohol consume close to zero, I don’t smoke, I’m an enthusiastic sportsman and I’m trying to live a healthy lifestyle. It does not only keep my glucose level more stable, but also extends my lifetime. According to new studies, diabetic men have a shortened life expectancy of up to eleven years. That’s far more lifetime for diabetics than last generations went through. I’m confident, that I am able to push it to the limit with this balanced way of life. If you also come down with diabetes, keep yourself in mind that it’s possible to handle it. Don’t panic! Today, the community is big and medical care is awesome!