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Type 1 Diabetes Through the Life of a Young Patient

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels and potential organ damage, managed by insulin injections, diet, and exercise.

By Habiba Zakir / Edited by Aiden Chantemsin

Updated December 23, 2023

Type 1 diabetes—also known as juvenile diabetes—is a chronic condition where the body's pancreas makes little insulin or stops its secretion altogether. Insulin is a hormone required to lower the blood sugar level by breaking down the sugar (glucose) and making them enter the body's cells to produce energy. If there will be no insulin, glucose will accumulate in the bloodstream causing the blood sugar level to rise. This can lead to heart diseases, kidney failure, eyes and nerves damage, and even death in severe cases. Its exact cause is unknown. Usually, the body's own immune system attacks the islet cells in pancreas and destroys them. Islet cells produce insulin. This can happen due to both genetic and environmental factors (such as exposure to viruses).

Although type 1 diabetes usually appears during childhood or adolescence, it can also develop in adults. Its symptoms include: frequent urination, getting thirsty and hungry, feeling tired and weak, losing weight and having blurry vision. Despite intense research, there is no cure for this condition.The only way to prevent damage to your body organs is to take insulin regularly to control blood sugar level. Healthy diet and lifestyle can also help manage your condition but taking insulin is a must. Healthy diet includes eating food that has a high amount of protein (eggs, fish, beans and lentils), eating non-starchy vegetables, choosing whole grains and staying hydrated. Added sugars, refined grains such as white bread, processed foods, sugary breakfast cereals, sweets such as cakes and candies, sugary drinks, fried foods and those high in saturated fats, and alcoholic beverages should be avoided.

Our patient—who we'll refer to as Saba for anonymity purposes—is a 21 year old student from Pakistan who fights against diabetes with her utmost courage and resilience. She was diagnosed with diabetes type 1 at the age of 12 when she was studying in grade 7. When she got diagnosed, it didn't affect her much mentally due to continuous and positive support from her family and doctors. Also, she was just 12 years old, so couldn't understand much and was treated like a normal human being. However, it was quite a painful experience physically as the body's pancreas stopped producing insulin and glucagon. She was admitted to the ICU and the initial phase was difficult for her, nonetheless she survived. After that, she is leading a normal life but has to inject insulin before every meal.

This is what she has to say when asked about family support or how the disease affected her family, social and work life. "For me, I think that my family and friends became more possessive and protective to ensure that nothing goes wrong with my health. Since I was studying at that time and with the significant support especially of my family, nothing affected my studies. They closely monitored everything and prioritized my health above all else. As for the social life and work life, it wasn't affected much except that initially, I try to hide it from people due to the judgements that they pass. Also they consider you weak and vulnerable then. But over time, I have overcome this and now I am living a good life." Her life's plans remain unchanged, however she added a goal to her life which is to serve as an example for all those who believe they can't achieve greatness while dealing with diabetes or any other disease.

"I am currently enjoying life to the fullest because I've learned to manage my condition very well through a controlled diet and regular exercise. One of the most important lessons this disease has taught me is patience—the patience to achieve goals over the long term. And consistency because without it, optimal results are hard to attain I believe. You might wonder how so let me clear it. When my blood sugar levels are high and ketones are positive (ketones appear when body's cells don't get glucose to produce energy, instead they burn fats which result in the production of ketones), I choose exercise as my response. It's a continuous effort and so tiring but it not only refreshes me mentally and spiritually, but also keeps me physically fit. Simultaneously, my inner voice tells me 'stay calm buddy, relax, be patient, your blood sugar level will soon drop to 180'. So I remind myself of this process during ever challenging times in my life."

But despite many positives in her life such as her family over carefulness and support, one thing she has noticed over time is that people's responses often tend to be impulsive focusing on potential consequences that may or may not actually happen. They overlook the pain the patient already endures and this can be very disturbing for the patient's mental health. It usually happens when sometimes she suffers high blood sugar levels.

Finally, the advice to the people is that "Dealing with diabetes isn't as daunting as it may seem. All it requires is maintaining your composure and calmness, checking the temperature of your insulin, injecting it at the right time, and most importantly, adhering to a controlled diet along with regular exercise. Remember, you and I are not alone—countless others manage this condition and thrive in their journeys. Throw away any negative thoughts and focus on the world you've envisioned for yourself. This disease can't harm us unless we allow it to. Stay happy, cool and calm!"

As of 2021, around 8.4 million people suffer from diabetes Type 1 that accounts for approximately 5-10% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. A constant global rise has been observed in its incidence, though the reasons for this rise are not completely understood. Many believe environmental factors to be playing a part. Though there is no permanent cure for diabetes type 1, one can manage it through insulin's injection, controlled diet and regular exercise,and can live a pretty normal life.