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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a common life-long health condition, where a person’s pancreas does not produce any insulin, or not enough, or where the insulin that is produced does not work properly. This causes the amount of glucose in your blood (blood sugar level) to be too high, because the body cannot use it properly.

There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1: Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce any insulin. Usually, it occurs before the age of 40, and especially in childhood. A common way of treating Type 1 diabetes is through daily insulin injections.
  • Type 2: Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin but it is either not enough or does not work properly. It is usually controlled with a healthy diet and exercise and, in some cases, insulin.

Living with diabetes

Diabetes cannot be cured but you can control the symptoms in order to prevent health problems developing later on in life.

Glucose or blood sugar levels need to be regularly checked in diabetes. This can be done using a simple finger prick blood test. Ideal glucose blood level varies from person to person and it is useful to talk to anyone in your section with diabetes about this.

If glucose levels get too low, a person could experience hypoglycaemia, or a hypo. Signs that someone is having a hypo could be hunger, shakiness, irritability or blurred vision. If the signs are spotted quickly enough, the hypo can be treated by taking something high in sugar, such as a non diet fizzy drink. If the person is unable to swallow, seek medical help quickly, rather than trying to force them.

Insulin cannot be taken by mouth, but rather has to be injected. Two of the ways of taking it are:

  • Insulin pens – small needles in the form of a pen that can be carried around with you, to inject insulin at appropriate times, such as after eating
  • Insulin pumps – a device that is attached to your body, via a small plastic tube that usually sits under your body. This provides continuous insulin and should not be disconnected for long periods of time

There is no special ‘diabetic diet’ although a healthy diet is important in controlling both forms of diabetes.

Practical tips

As with all additional needs, it is important to have ongoing discussions with the young people and adults about how their diabetes is controlled, including information on meals, injections and exercise.

Other things that you should think about:

  • Find out what to do in an emergency. Again, talk to the young person, parents or adults
  • Ensure that the appropriate routine regarding injections is followed
  • Take extra starchy food, if you are likely to be doing an activity involving high levels of exercise, as well as food or drinks that are high in sugar, such as Jelly Babies.
  • You may need to keep supplies of insulin refrigerated and the correct storage and disposal of needles is a must.
  • Younger members may need help with injecting insulin. An appropriate person, who is capable and comfortable with this, should be found.



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