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Think You Understand Diabetes?

Think you understand Diabetes? That's when it gets dangerous.
As a 12 year old I was oblivious. At 14, scared, and at 18, ignorant. Is adulthood any different?
Diabetes is an intriguing condition. Taking many months for the onset to take place (often called pre-diabetes), it creeps up on you and affects your world and everything in it; rather like the thief in the night who leaves you waking up to find an empty house.
Many people don't realize but if pre-diabetes is discovered, the onset of full type 1 or type 2 diabetes can be stopped. The critical issue here is to recognize the signs. Perhaps you're a little overweight, eating a lot of high sugar foods,

feeling groggy in the morning (more than usual) or struggling to recover after exercise. It can be any one of a long list of symptoms. As always, prevention is better than a cure. This is particularly the case with Diabetes as scientists have, in recent years, steered away from developing a cure (many years and huge amounts of money have been spent searching for a break through) and focused on improving its management and medication.
Retracing the steps to my childhood, I can still remember my mother's face when the aging, and eccentric, doctor informed her that "your son has diabetes". She was crushed. She knew the implications. I on the other hand was far too busy chuckling at the clown picture on the A-Z chart. Oblivion. I was in pure oblivion. Scurrying to the hospital all I really remember of the nurse was the way she held a finger, my left index, out stretched and then...the pain. So much pain. Suddenly the lights went out and my head was comforted by the nearest pillow.
By the age of 14 I knew I was different. I must eat properly at all set meal times, I must always carry my dextrose tablets and refuse the candyfloss at the annual may fair. If not, it was a trip back to the eccentric doctor to hear about the severe side effects of acting the way I was.
Of course there is a bizarre benefit to experiencing a hypo aged 14. I knew what it was like to be drunk before many of my peers. The subtle but definite slide into a hypoglycemic state compares closely with an 18 year old at midnight at his/her college ball. The feeling of dizziness coupled with an inability to really react to anything. You lose perspective and everything suddenly becomes one hysterical joke. This is the body's reaction as its internal systems work over time searching for sugar in the blood stream.
I have on more than one occasion struggled to pull myself out of the stupor of falling blood sugars. Sometimes, falling into a relaxed sleep really feels appealing (this actually being a hypoglycemic coma). It's a strange sensation.
By 18 I didn't care. And it wasn't my blood sugars stopping me from standing at my college ball. Along came University and the pressures to fit in. Ultimately I did a lot I shouldn't have and why? Because I had lived with Diabetes for 6 years now and I was becoming cocky and ignorant. I fear, knowing many diabetics of a similar age, I am not the only one to have had/experience these issues.
Now I look back and think about how I've managed my diabetes. My HBA1C, a three month blood sugar average, has always ranged between 7 and 8 mmol/l - seen as acceptable by the consultants and doctors I have visited over the years. However, I think about the pressures modern day life brings, the urgency most people have experienced to get something done and those lunches that just don't get eaten for fear of missed deadlines. Any diabetic will know what this leads to. If you don't I suggest contacting Diabetes UK, who were a great help during my early days as a diagnosed diabetic.
The fear for the future is that our changing lifestyles have led to increased rates of diabetes. If we don't change our view of the work/life/exercise balance, diabetes is set to become an even greater danger to the UK and ultimately the westernized world.
It's a familiar story for young professionals the world over. Fewer blood sugar level checks, less exercise (which lowers blood sugars), more processed food and more alcohol. It's a trend leading to poorer control of this potentially fatal disease. The irony is that, as with all medical advancement, we now understand the condition, its symptoms and its management better than ever before. Yet, it is for this very reason that diabetes has become considered in the mind of its young suffers as "manageable".
It's my experience and belief that as soon as anything, whether its diabetes or an English G.C.S.E, becomes easy or manageable, the brain switches off and stops concentrating, often with severe consequences.
We're pouring more money into research than ever before; let's hope a cure is discovered. If not, lets hope the NHS isn't amputating legs and feet, dealing with blindness and any number of other complications that diabetes can cause. Now, I ask you, how tempting is that Mars bar?
Jon Paget lives with Diabetes and writes freelance articles based in London.


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