At the tender age of 4 years old, my brother was rushed to hospital. No-one knew what was happening, there had been signs leading up to his diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes now that we had time to reflect.
On the night before he was admitted to hospital, he was drinking water with an unquenchable thirst, watching the footy with the family, however needing to go to the toilet constantly. We took him to the GP for some tests early in the morning and then he went off to pre-school. By lunchtime he was hospitalised and extremely ill. The colour of his blood was a very strange colour - like a dark blue/red.
My mum recollects leading up to this time, in the months beforehand, there were other signs such as my brother having a sweet, fruity odour on his breath and any bruising/cuts from his active play, would take an unusual amount of time to heal.
Some very early signs of something amiss!
He never really put much weight on, always a lean child. It was difficult, as diabetes wasn’t known to be in the immediate family and as a family, we knew very little about it at that time.
We were devastated when the doctor shared that our young brother had Type 1 diabetes. Overnight we had a confronting education about its complexities, including risks of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, anxiety, depression and limb amputations. It was scary and overwhelming. These same health consequences also apply to Type 2 diabetes.
He was so young, we couldn’t fathom him living with this incurable, lifelong condition with such serious potential complications. The nurses helped us to self-administer syringes and prick testing to ourselves (we were in our teen years) so we could understand what our brother would be going through daily for the rest of his life. I clearly remember putting the syringe into my thigh and wondering how it would be possible for him to do this forever. Some type 1 diabetics administer up to 6 insulin injections a day!
What we did learn very quickly, was that if managed well, he could still live a full and enjoyable life. That gave us hope. Over the years, diabetes management has changed significantly to provide a greater quality of life.
I write this blog today in the hope to share 8 things every Australian should know about Diabetes!
1. Diabetes can affect anyone, of any age
With one person every 5 minutes in Australia developing diabetes, it shows that this can happen to anyone, at any time, at any age.
There are different types of diabetes:
· Type 1 (which is the type of diabetes that affected my brother)
· Type 2 (lifestyle)
· Gestational diabetes (developed during pregnancy)
With 280 Australians developing diabetes every single day, we will all know someone who is impacted by this serious and complex condition. That equates to about 1.8 million Aussies living with Diabetes *
There is likely to be many, many more who simply don’t know they have it yet, going about life, unaware of the risks.
It makes sense that we should learn more about it.
2. Diabetes can be managed
Whist the complications and potential consequence of ineffective management are very real, there are several things that can be done to manage diabetes to lead a full and healthy life.
3. Type 2 Diabetes is on the rise
Type 2 diabetes accounts for 85%* of all diabetes (as opposed to Type 1). This figure is increasing at an alarming rate.
Why is that?
Type 2 Diabetes is largely influenced by other external factors, it comes down a lot to our lifestyle. It may be potentially prevented or delayed (in up to 58% of cases*) by adopting some changes to your daily habits:
These are simple changes such as:-
· Getting more regular physical activity
· Keeping an eye on the scales and maintaining a healthy weight range
· Improving your nutrition and food choices
· Better management of blood pressure and cholesterol levels
· Giving up the ciggies or vaping! (yeah, they have to go!)
Small changes, BIG benefits
(Please note:- currently Type 1 diabetes is not able to be prevented. It is connected to the autoimmune process. The triggers for Type 1 diabetes are still unknown. Research continues to better understand the influence of environmental impact and autoimmune conditions in Type 1 diabetes)
Genetics, family history and ethnicity are thought to have an influence in the development of Type 1 diabetes.
4. Diabetes is caused from eating too much sugar? – that’s a myth!
How many times have you heard that one?!
Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar. With diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.
Diabetes is not caused from eating too much sugar.
In the case of Type 2 diabetes, lifestyle choices play a role in diabetes being triggered, so is important to maintain both a healthy weight and make healthy food choices, so adding too much sugar to the diet isn’t likely to be a good idea.
5. Diabetes is a common disease
Sadly, it is becoming more and more common. According to the Australian Bureau of statistics (for the 2020-2021 period):
One in twenty Australians had diabetes (5.3% or 1.3 million people)
Males and females had similar rates of diabetes (5.7% and 4.9%)
The most common type of diabetes was Type 2 diabetes (4.5%)
6. Type 2 Diabetes is milder than Type 1 diabetes? – another myth!
Let’s set the record straight here. It is not any milder. You are not able to get a ‘touch’ of diabetes. They both have the same seriousness and potential consequences in terms of concerning health implications.
If you have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, it is a wake-up call for YOU.
In many cases, a person could influence changes to their own health by:
developing a fitness routine and
being more pro-active with their medical check-ups.
It is not a guarantee, however the potential here is if you take a pro-active stance with your health, it may allow you to cease Type 2 diabetes medication (this would be under strict medical guidance and observation). I stress ‘may’ as no guarantee that this will occur with certainty, however in many cases positive results have occurred.
7. Diabetes is a significant risk for heart disease and stroke (as diabetes can raise your blood pressure)
How often are you seeing your doctor?
Do you seek out routine checks/annual examinations?
Being proactive with your health will help you spot any warning signs well before other health problems set in.
Don’t let a heart attack or stroke be the first sign that you had uncontrolled diabetes.
8. Healthy eating (and an active lifestyle) is key to managing diabetes
There is not a special diet as such, however, it does take an exceptional understanding of what and how much you are consuming. A balanced diet is very important.
As my brother was very young when diagnosed, it took years of planning meals and counting out protein and carbohydrate portions, until he was well into his late teens, where he could understand the impacts of food choices on his body.
Good management of diabetes is a combination of being mindful of what you are eating, regularly taking medication and effective management/monitoring of your blood sugar levels.
With so many Australians impacted by diabetes, it is likely that you shall have a friend, family member, relative or work colleague that is affected.
Would you know the signs if a person had a hypo at work? (or hyper?). It is more likely that you will be witness to someone having a hypo (where blood sugar levels drop too low).
An easy way to remember the difference - HYPOglycaemia (Hypo think Low) and HYPERglycaemia (Hyper is high, think hyperactive child)
Although my brother has lived with diabetes for nearly 37+ years, I can honestly say that I haven’t experienced too many occasions whereby he had a hypo/hyper when I was present. Signs that his diabetes had usually always been very well managed!
He has experienced more health problems as he has aged, and this has made it a little more complicated. Things such as the weather, for example, hot and humid days can also have an unexpectant impact on his health and blood sugar levels.
It is important that you know the signs (this is for a hypo):
· Feeling dizzy
· A tingling in the lips
· Signs of trembling or shaking
· A change in behaviour (for e.g. becoming irritated/angry, moody, anxious or tearful)
· Becoming fatigued
· Changes to the heartbeat e.g. racing heart/palpitations
For my brother, I would notice his face would ‘glaze’ over and he would slowly become less responsive, then his speech would deteriorate, starting to slur his words when talking to him.
We knew these signs were an indicator that we had to act quickly.
Diabetes First Aid Response
If the person is conscious and still able to swallow, give them some sugar (think a sweet drink like fruit juice, soft drink (not diet drinks), or even a couple of teaspoons of sugar dissolved in a small amount of water). Take care to not give the drink in a glass. A person having a hypo can easily smash the glass in their hands from their strong grip. Preferably put into a strong plastic mug if possible. My brother always preferred sugar in a small amount of milk as opposed to water. He says it is more palatable.
If able to have something solid, give chocolates or lollies like barley sugar, or jellybeans to suck on. This will usually be enough to ‘bring them around’ and you will see their condition improve quite quickly.
Then wait 10 minutes and test their blood sugar. Give them more sugary food or drink if still in the low range.
Once they are more alert and If their sugar level is in the normal range give them something more substantial such as a sandwich, several sweet biscuits, cheese, or a complex carbohydrate (e.g. a banana) to balance.
If they have slurred speech or their condition is deteriorating I personally wouldn’t give them jelly beans or lollies, the risk of choking is high and I doubt you want to manage a second first aid emergency in this situation.
If they don’t respond or don’t appear to be improving, always call 000.
It is possible from experiencing a hypo, that the person falls unconscious. It is life-threatening, so remember to call 000 immediately for an ambulance, letting them know the person is diabetic.
Put the person on their side.
Make sure to NOT give them anything to eat or drink at this time.
I know for my brother as he came out of a hypo it was tiring for him, somewhat confusing as he did not have always have a full recollection of what had happened. Dependent on where he was when it happened, I know he had also at times felt embarrassed. He would often say he his head hurt or had headaches as the after effect.
Please always be kind.
It is important for you to continue to reassure them until they are fully recovered and monitor afterwards that they are okay. They may need to seek medical attention afterwards.
First Aid Tip:
If you have staff or clients who are diabetic, I would suggest having Jelly Beans or Glucose Gel in the first aid kit.
You never know when you may need to help someone in this situation. They shall be thankful that you took the time to learn about the 8 things every Australian should know about Diabetes!
Keep this handy First Aid fact sheet to guide you on Diabetes First Aid treatment.
Please share this blog to help others learn about diabetes.
* Statistics sourced from Diabetes Australia