Living with diabetes

Once a diabetes patient gets their condition under control and gets used to the diet and medication routines, they face a long list of other lifestyle adaptations.

Daily Care
First and foremost, a diabetic must strive for optimum health. All the usual recommendations for a healthy lifestyle—regular exercise, good sleeping habits, no smoking, care when drinking alcohol, etc.—are even more applicable to a diabetic.

Adolescence
Given the huge hormone fluctuations and social pressures in adolescents in general, it should come as no surprise that these have an effect on diabetics, as well. Routines can suddenly go out of whack; glucose responses to certain events can change drastically. Vigilance is very important, especially as social pressures may cause a diabetic adolescent to rebel against being different or requiring special attention.

Other Medical Considerations
Diabetics must take their condition into account at all times. What would be a simple cold or routine surgery for anyone else has greater ramifications for a diabetic.

Being sick is easier to handle if you plan for it. Know what medications are safe for you to take for different mild illnesses such as colds and flues. Make arrangements at work or school so they know what will happen if you get sick. Monitor your glucose carefully, as illness alone can increase its levels, and so can medications. Also, each person’s reaction is different—don’t assume your glucose will go up; sometimes it goes down, and you have to react accordingly.

Diabetics should get flu shots every year. Pneumonia shots are also highly recommended. Consult your physician on when to get this, and whether to get a second shot after five to ten years.

Surgery procedures are very different for diabetics, too. Before, during, and after surgery, glucose monitoring and Insulin treatment are essential. Plan carefully with your surgeon, consulting with your regular physician as well. You’ll probably have to report to the hospital in advance, and recovery can take longer.

Sexuality
A normal sex life is possible for both men and women with diabetes. However, some issues are common, with reported incidences slightly higher than in a non-diabetic population. Vascular and nerve problems can cause erectile dysfunction, and there is an apparent link to male infertility. Women with diabetes sometimes report low libido or inadequate lubrication. For both genders, the toll the disease takes on daily routines—leading to fatigue, stress, etc.—can reduce desire and satisfaction.

But nothing is inevitable, and little is irreversible. If you experience any of these concerns, talk to your doctor or see a specialist about available treatments.

Family Planning and Pregnancy
Luckily, women with diabetes are no longer automatically discouraged (or forbidden!) from getting pregnant. With proper care and management, a healthy, normal pregnancy and delivery are possible. The key is good Blood glucose control before, during, and after the pregnancy. Your physician can help you modify your meal plan, glucose monitoring, insulin treatments, etc., to accommodate the changes pregnancy brings.

After the baby is born, all of the major changes any new parents go through—breastfeeding, wild sleep patterns, hormone fluctuations, inability to keep a solid schedule—are magnified in anyone with diabetes. Whether you’re the father or the mother, vigilance in monitoring and treatment are even more important than ever. It’s not only your own health at issue now—you’ve got someone new depending on you!

Driving
One of the first big milestones as we grow up is getting a driver’s license. How does diabetes affect a teen’s ability to get their license?

Hypoglycemia (low Blood sugar) can affect a person’s driving, but shouldn’t interfere with the licensing process if the patient has their diabetes under control. A doctor’s note to that effect may be requested, but the main factor in obtaining the first license is going to be just like for any other teen—the ability to pass the test! Check your state’s rules regarding medical conditions, and consult the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and American Diabetes Association’s brochure on driver safety.

Drivers should test their blood sugar before driving, especially when embarking on long trips, and keep the car stocked with snacks and glucose tablets. If you feel the symptoms of low blood sugar, pull over immediately.

Travel
Management of your diabetes is easiest when you are in your normal routines and have access to your usual supplies and providers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ever go anywhere! Diabetics can do just about anything anyone else can do, whether backpacking through Europe, cruising to Alaska, or just driving across a few states. It just takes a little advance preparation.

Some things to keep in mind:
  • Factor in time zone changes, which will lengthen or shorten your day and affect your eating and insulin.
  • Pack more insulin, medical supplies, testing supplies, other medication, and snacks than you think you will need. Plan for delays and detours so you don’t get caught without.
  • Get a letter from your doctor outlining your specific care needs, and a prescription for insulin or any other medication in case of an emergency.
  • Research the effects of flight on insulin. For example, the pressure in the airplane’s cabin can affect the needle draw, and therefore the dosage.
  • Wear comfortable shoes, build time into your itinerary to take care of yourself and your diabetes, and have fun!
Type 1 diabetes affects everything you do, and requires many modifications to your lifestyle.
But it doesn’t have to be restrictive or keep you from doing things you love. Planning, monitoring, and education will always keep you on track.