My friend Bec of Sweet and Sour Diabetes and I originally designed these conversations as a way to highlight the uniqueness of our experiences with type 1 diabetes, despite both being diagnosed just days apart with only a few years difference in age.
We’ve slacked off a bit with these conversations this year, but we did make up for it with some great conversation while taking in the breathtaking sights of the Parramatta river when we finally met up earlier this year. This is another amazing example of how diabetes has made my world a lot smaller.
Today, we’re back to dissect all things National Diabetes Week.
The theme of this year’s National Diabetes Week is ‘It’s About Time,’ focussing on knowing the signs and symptoms of both types of diabetes. Would you have benefitted from a greater awareness of the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes when you were diagnosed?
Frank: I presented to my doctor with all of the typical symptoms of type 1 diabetes – feeling tired, thirsty, going to the toilet a lot and a looking much thinner. In hindsight, it’s hard to believe that this doctor was unable to recognise any of these symptoms. He diagnosed me with a simple virus, ordering bed rest and lots of hot fluids. Three days later I wound up in hospital vomiting, panting and an extremely rapid heart rate.
Obviously nobody wants to wind up in hospital. Physically, I definitely would have benefitted had that doctor, or the people around me, known those 4 Ts of type 1 diabetes. Mentally, I’m not too sure how I would have handled that diagnosis had I been diagnosed in my doctor’s office. Initially, having type 1 diabetes was nothing compared to having all of those physical symptoms finally relieved.
Bec: It’s so easy for doctors to miss the signs, because they do mimic that of a virus. I agree, for me it would have been a much faster diagnosis if I knew the signs. I was chronically thirsty for such a long time, but I didn’t know that could be a sign of type 1. I delayed going to my doctor for so long that when I eventually got there my blood sugar was in the 40s.
Let’s talk about type 2 diabetes. What do you think people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes need to know?
Frank: As a guy, we tend to only go to the doctors when we’re dying. Overall, people tend to just soldier on when they’re unwell, rather than stopping to look after themselves and recover sooner (our workplaces and cultures could do a lot more to support self care). Furthermore, it’s a lot harder for people with type 2 because the onset is much slower and most will feel quite normal.
Honestly, I think anyone at risk of developing type 2 could minimise that risk by simply staying in touch with their healthcare professionals, maintaining their regular checkups and bloodwork. Just as you and I already do because we live with diabetes.
Bec: I completely agree there is a lot more we could be doing to prompt people to seek medical attention and take care of themselves. People with a known risk of developing Type 2 absolutely need to know the signs, and surround themselves with a good healthcare team as early as possible. This means they have support should the need arise.
I think there also needs to be more education on what Type 2 diabetes is. It’s not all their fault, and I think that assumption and misconception is what delays people seeking medical attention.
What do you think are some of the barriers to people being diagnosed with either forms of diabetes earlier?
Frank: Too many people don’t know the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes. Our stories both demonstrate that. It’s scary to still hear stories online of people dying from undiagnosed diabetes today.
I think a lot of people diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes don’t have supportive healthcare professionals. Many people are sent home by the doctor being told to lose weight and exercise more, without being referred to an expert such as a Credentialled Diabetes Educator. People will often feel guilty, confused or even in denial while the condition progresses further.
Bec: Type 1 is completely unknown unless you have a personal link to it. I guess all we can do is share our stories to try and combat that. It takes time for diagnosis because we don’t know what we’re looking for, and Type 1 isn’t the first thing that pops into your head.
Type 2 again has so many misconceptions that it puts people off seeking help. Why go in when you’re just going to be told the same thing time and time again- eat well and exercise. There needs to be more support from health professionals, more awareness of the real nature of Type 2 and more compassion from everyone. No one chooses to get a chronic illness.