How can type 1 diabetes affect my life?

Type 1 diabetes is a progressive autoimmune disorder in which the body has lost its ability to produce adequate insulin. You must have insulin to live because it allows your cells to use the glucose from your food to produce energy. Without insulin, your cells would essentially starve.

Since your body is no longer producing insulin, you must get it from some other source through injections. But experts are researching other ways to deliver insulin.

Daily life

The most immediate effect that developing type 1 diabetes will have on your life is having to inject yourself with insulin. Giving yourself injections can be intimidating at first, but it is necessary, and your diabetes team will work with you to increase your comfort level. Over time, you will grow more accustomed to it.

Many people with type 1 diabetes take insulin injections up to 4 times a day. As you can imagine, taking 4 injections a day can cause you to make several lifestyle adjustments.

Once you have mastered giving yourself the injections, you should learn when you need short-acting insulin versus long-acting insulin. This will give you the ability to customize your diabetes treatment and will allow you to take more control over your own health.

You will also most likely need to make at least a few lifestyle adjustments so that you are eating well and exercising regularly. Diabetes is a chronic condition that unfortunately has no cure, but it can be controlled and managed. Once you have been diagnosed with diabetes, your team of health professionals (usually including at least a doctor, nurse educator, and dietitian) will recommend several changes to your lifestyle that, if followed, will help delay the onset of complications and minimize low or high blood sugar emergencies. Two of these recommendations that will affect your everyday life are daily monitoring of blood glucose levels and implementation of a diet and exercise program. Because your diabetes will require daily monitoring and a commitment to healthy eating habits, most of the responsibility for treating the disease falls on you.

Diet and exercise are two of the most important factors that you can control in terms of preventing the progression of diabetes and later complications. When you exercise and eat, you should coordinate that with the monitoring of your blood glucose level. By monitoring your blood sugar, not only can you see immediately the effect that eating a particular food had on your blood glucose level, but you can also measure the long-term success of your diet modifications. If, for instance, your blood glucose routinely exceeds your prescribed target range two hours after eating a muffin, in consultation with your doctor you should either adjust your insulin dosing to help lower the glucose level or you should eat a smaller portion of the muffin.

Life expectancy

Unfortunately, in addition to affecting your daily life, having diabetes also can shorten your life expectancy by as much as 15 years. The condition typically reduces average life expectancy by causing serious, life-threatening health problems. These problems are most often related to the development of diabetic complications, such as stroke, heart disease, or kidney failure. Although many of these complications occur in people who do not have diabetes, your compromised blood vessel (circulatory) and immune systems tend to allow these disorders to develop at a younger age than in other people. However, if you lead a healthy lifestyle, you can minimize the effect diabetes has on your quality of life.

There are ongoing studies to find ways to prevent or delay diabetes complications and increase life expectancy of people with diabetes. Monitoring and treatment of diabetes has greatly improved over the past 10 to 20 years, which should increase the quality and length of life for people with diabetes.

Last Updated: September 24, 2008

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