Whether friends or family, most of us know someone who has diabetes. Diabetes is a widespread health condition characterized by problems with the hormone insulin, which helps manage your blood sugar levels. Depending on the type of diabetes someone has, either their body doesn’t respond normally to insulin, or no insulin is produced by their pancreas.
If you’re wondering how to be a friend to someone with diabetes, here are some common questions to better understand the condition and how it affects their life.
It’s not from eating too much sugar.
While a main characteristic of diabetes is that your blood sugar levels can be too high, this condition is not caused by eating too much sugar. In many cases, it can be complex to pinpoint the exact cause of someone developing diabetes.
Regardless, dietary and lifestyle modifications are essential for the management, and in some cases, the reversal of diabetes.
There’s a difference between the types of diabetes.
There are three main types of diabetes, each of which have different risks, contributing factors, characteristics, and requirements for proper management. These include type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common. Some of the biggest risk factors that contribute to its development are a person’s lifestyle habits. Most often, being overweight or obese, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and following a diet pattern largely made up of high fat, high added sugar, and ultra-processed foods are associated with a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
While type 2 diabetes once primarily affected adults, the prevalence of this condition has increased significantly and now includes many children as well. It requires healthy lifestyle habits, and often medication, for management.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. This means it arises as a result of an abnormal immune response to a properly functioning body part. Having a friend with type 1 diabetes means that their body has mistakenly attacked and destroyed pancreatic cells that produce insulin, the hormone created to regulate your blood sugar.
Type 1 diabetes is more likely to initially appear early in life, before the teenage years. It requires the use of daily insulin injections, as well as healthy lifestyle habits, for management.
Lastly, gestational diabetes appears during pregnancy among women who did not have diabetes before becoming pregnant. In this condition, your body doesn’t tolerate sugar as it normally does. One reason for this is likely because, during pregnancy, the placenta releases high amounts of the pregnancy hormones estrogen, cortisol, and lactogen, which can interfere with insulin production.
There are two classifications of gestational diabetes- A1 and A2. A1 can be controlled by diet, whereas A2 also requires medication. In many cases, gestational diabetes resolves on its own after the baby is born. However, it does raise a woman’s risk for type 2 diabetes.
I can eat the same things as you, with caution
Many people aren’t sure what to say to someone with diabetes, so it’s normal to ask questions. People with diabetes are frequently asked things like, “can you eat (or drink) that?” in social situations.
While these come from a place of care or curiosity, it can be frustrating answering over and over again. The answer is that, yes, someone with diabetes can choose to eat whatever they want, as long as caution is practiced to make sure any blood sugar responses are properly managed.
Eating with diabetes is like a math equation, as the amount of insulin or medication taken has to correspond correctly to the amount of glucose ingested. The amount of carbohydrates consumed, which are broken down by the body into glucose, requires a certain amount of insulin to regulate. If the balance isn’t quite right, this can result in high or low blood sugar.
It’s a serious disease and I have to be on top of it
Diabetes isn’t something to take lightly. I have to test my blood sugar regularly. While products like the DigiVibe that uses vibration technology to make finger pricks pain-free can help make it more manageable, I still need to stay on top of it.
Symptoms of high or low blood sugar can be severe. For many people, low blood sugar symptoms can include sweating, shaking, paleness, light-headedness, imbalance, and even seizures. Having blood sugar that’s too high can also result in symptoms like headaches, mood changes, and blurred vision.
Uncontrolled blood sugar over a prolonged time can have serious long-term consequences, like heart or kidney disease, vision and nerve damage, or even early death.
Understandably, the fear around triggering these symptoms can be overwhelming at times. It also means that people with diabetes always have to make sure they have food or medications available.
Furthermore, blood sugar levels aren’t only impacted by food intake. Some people are more sensitive to physical activity, and even a low-intensity exercise or walk can trigger a low blood sugar episode.
I need your support
To better understand how to help a friend with diabetes, it’s critical to recognize how much the disease impacts them. Diabetes is a condition that requires constant attention. People who have diabetes never get a break from thinking about their blood sugar and how to keep it properly managed. This means constantly planning ahead for the next meal or beverage, followed by how much insulin may be needed.
The best way to support friends with diabetes is to be informed. Show awareness by checking in occasionally. This is especially helpful if they’re recovering from an episode of high or low blood sugar. Make sure they’re feeling okay and have access to food, drinks, or medications they may need. Ask your friend how you can be supportive in times of need as well as on a regular basis.
Most of us know someone with diabetes. When you don’t have the condition yourself, it can be difficult to navigate how to be supportive without overstepping or being insensitive. Having a basic understanding of the disease itself, including the unique ways in which it impacts your friend’s daily life, is a good start.