Type 1 Diabetes: Advice On Coping With It And How To Spot The Signs

When home secretary Theresa May announced that she had Type 1 diabetes, she said that it had been difficult to isolate the symptoms to figure out what was actually wrong.

She went on to say that it will not affect her job - and indeed, most people suffering from Type 1 diabetes can go on to lead perfectly normal lives - but the reality for her is that Type 1 diabetes is a condition that needs to be managed.

One of those ways is by making sure she takes insulin - the hormone that your body stops producing - every day.

Apart from coping with the physical implications of the disease, there is also the emotional aspect to think about. Talking to the Mail On Sunday, she said: "It was a real shock and, yes, it took me a while to come to terms with it."

HuffPost UK Lifestyle spoke to Libby Dowling, clinical advisor at Diabetes UK, who clarified: "With Type 1 diabetes, you don’t make any insulin at all. The only way to treat it is to take insulin daily – through an injection or a pump you wear all the time. It's an auto immune condition where your body has attacked your own cells, immune system and pancreas. Once you have it, you always have it for life. Insulin producing cells have been destroyed.

"With Type 2, either you are producing some but not enough or insulin isn’t working properly. And, although once you have it you always have it, you can treat in different ways, either through changes to diet or physical activity. You can also take other medication for it."

We also spoke to Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, Chief Medical Officer for Bupa about the age bracket that Type 1 tends to affect. May is 56. "You can develop Type 1 diabetes at any age, but it usually affects people before the age of 40, most commonly during childhood. Type 1 diabetes is far less common than Type 2 diabetes, accounting for around only 10% of people with diabetes."

So how do you spot the symptoms? Dr Zollinger-Read says that symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually develop quickly, over a short period of time. And it is critical you look out for the signs.

He said: "If it’s not treated properly, Type 1 diabetes can cause many different health problems. Long-term complications of Type 1 diabetes develop gradually, over years. High glucose levels can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs. This is why, if you have Type 1 diabetes, you need to look after your health very carefully. We should all try to eat healthily, exercise regularly and not smoke or drink too much alcohol. But for those with Type 1 diabetes, making healthy lifestyle choices is even more important."

To raise awareness around spotting the symptoms, Diabetes UK have launched a campaign called the four T's, which you can read more about on the website.

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How To Spot The Symptoms Of Diabetes

One of the key things to remember, is that often, most people have no idea they have the disease. And upon hearing that it is a permanent condition, people do struggle to cope with the emotional aftermath.

Libby adds: "People can get quite frightened because they hear the word and assume 'my kidneys will fail, limbs drop off'. And when people get a diagnosis – it comes out of the blue and often there is no family member with the person. To be told you have to deal with injecting yourself – it’s quite invasive. Some people can be completely devastated as they struggle to get their head round a condition that needs to be managed."

But, Dr Zollinger-Read stresses, the important thing to remember is that diabetes - both types - can be managed and treated. He added: "The main aims of treatment are to monitor and help control your blood glucose levels, lead a healthy lifestyle and be aware of diabetes-related complications."

Also, Libby says, it is vital that people get the opportunity to ask questions and explain their fears, worries and concerns. "If people are concerned, we have a Careline (0845 120 260) open Monday to Friday – 9 to 5pm and is staffed by trained counselors who can give massive support with coping from an emotional point of view."