There's a lot of misunderstanding about diabetes, particularly type 1 diabetes. And these false perceptions end up harming patients at a time where they need our support and advocacy.
"Kids with type 1 diabetes are still normal kids who can do normal things," says Andrew Riggs, M.D., director of pediatric endocrinology with Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent. "But they still encounter people who are afraid of them, or think they – or their parents – caused the diabetes. There is still a huge lack of understanding about the disease."
Dr. Riggs says this happens, to some degree, because people don't understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
"When most people talk or refer to diabetes, they're usually talking about type 2—which is managed in part by a Healthy lifestyle," he says. "Yet people with type 2 face some unfair assumptions as well."
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes cannot be grouped together and should be approached as two separate diseases altogether.
For starters, type 1 diabetes – most often diagnosed in children, adolescents or young adults – occurs when the body stops making insulin, which the body needs so glucose can enter the cells and be used for energy.
Why the body stops making insulin is still a great mystery. But what researchers do know is that type 1 diabetes appears to be random—and definitely not caused by any lifestyle behaviors. While the cause still eludes researchers, they are certain how to treat it: insulin—four times a day.
"It's life changing. Patients have to check their blood sugar at least four times a day by pricking their finger. At those same times, they inject or pump insulin into the body," Dr. Riggs explains.
While not easy, Dr. Riggs says kids are resilient and learn how to adapt. "It just becomes part of their daily routine. Most can check their own blood sugar and administer their own insulin by the age 10 or 12," he says.
"Type 1 diabetes is clearly an adjustment, but there is no reason why those with type 1 diabetes cannot live normal, healthy lives. In fact, I advocate for it," he says.
Dr. Riggs encourages his patients to be physically active. "Kids with diabetes can do all the sports and activities that 'normal' kids can do," he says. He tries to inspire his young patients by telling them of famous people who successfully live with type 1 diabetes, including Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears quarterback), Gary Hall, Jr. (Olympic champion swimmer), Nick Jonas (musical performer) and Charlie Kimball (race car driver).
He also encourages patients to participate in the camps offered through the Diabetes Youth Foundation (www.dyfofindiana.org). "It's important for these kids to be around others with type 1 diabetes. It helps them feel less different from their peers."
He's optimistic that won't be an issue at all one day. "I tell my young patients that I believe we could see a cure developed in their lifetime. I sure hope so."
Pediatric endocrinologist and medical director of the Pediatric Endocrinology Center at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent.
Diabetes Awareness Day at The Children's Museum
In recognition of Diabetes Awareness Day on November 20, Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent is hosting a special diabetes event at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. Sponsored in conjunction with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (www.jdrf.org), the event will provide free education tools for parents, caregivers and children living with diabetes. Register by November 4th: 317-469-9604.