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Living With Diabetes: Ten Facts About the Disease You Should Know

Stephanie is an enthusiastic amateur photographer who loves sharing tips and favorite images.

Have You or a Loved One Been Diagnosed with Diabetes?

A diabetes diagnosis can be overwhelming. I know.

It was nearly 10 years ago when I found out that I had diabetes. At the time, the doctors thought it was merely Gestational Diabetes and would go away when my twins were delivered 2 months later. However, my blood glucose levels were so high that I was placed on insulin and required to test my blood sugar 6 times a day (before and after each meal).

While we hoped that the diabetes would "go away" after delivering the babies, I continued to have signs and symptoms of diabetes for months. Unfortunately, I rationalized the extreme thirst, hunger, exhaustion and blurred vision to the trials of raising four young children, including infant twins. However, when I finally tested my blood in May 2003, my blood glucose level was 550 mg/dl - significantly above the 200 mg/dl that is usually required for a diagnosis of diabetes.

My diagnosis was Type 1 diabetes - called Juvenile Diabetes, or Insulin-Dependent Diabetes. The disease had been brought on by an auto-immune reaction in which my body attacked the healthy cells in my pancreas (Beta cells) that produce insulin. Unlike Type 2 diabetes, in which a person's body is unable to produce adequate amounts of insulin for the food ingested, a person with Type 1 does not make any insulin at all and cannot cure or "reverse" the disease on their own.

How is Living with Diabetes Possible?

Managing diabetes - whether Type 1 or Type 2 - requires frequent measuring of blood glucose levels, taking appropriate medication and ensuring proper exercise and a healthy diet.

Its very possible to live with diabetes, whether you are the patient or a family member or friend. Yes, the disease is serious. However, for those that take it seriously and manage it in full consideration of the fact that it can be a life-threatening condition will generally enjoy a long and healthy life, absent any other complications.

Be sure to consult with your own doctor to discuss potential complications or other matters that may increase the requirements for living with diabetes under your own, unique circumstances.

Living with Diabetes: Nick Jonas

1. Its Not All About Sugar

My first cousin was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 9, about 20 years ago. At that time, we didn't understand the disease at all. In fact, I remember my cousin's first Halloween after the diagnosis when my mom sent sugar-free candy to Ryan.


As a diabetic myself, I know that sugar-free alternatives for any common food are not "diabetic-safe." Instead of thinking about sugar, you need to consider carbohydrates. These nutrients are rapidly converted in the body into glucose, which is fuel for your cells. When a person lacks adequate insulin, ingestion of carbohydrates can raise blood sugar to dangerous levels.

Its not all about sugar. Look at the nutrition facts on food labels and count carbs instead.

Testing blood glucose levels

Testing blood glucose levels

3. Many Factors Play into Blood Glucose Levels

Its not just what you eat that affects blood glucose levels. Consider the following:

  • Adequate sleep
  • Illness
  • Hydration
  • Exercise
  • Hormone levels
  • Stress
  • Fiber or fat in diet
  • Caffeine
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Mental health

2. Fiber Affects Absorption of Carbs

Any diabetic or nutritionist can tell you that high fiber foods - usually those that are fresh and not processed - will affect the absorption of carbohydrates.

What this means is that eating a fresh apple will be different than eating applesauce, even if both servings have the same number of grams of carbohydrates. Same goes for bread, pasta, and vegetables. This is one of the reasons that whole wheat pasta is healthier than "white" pasta.

Whole grains and fiber help slow or prevent a blood sugar "spike," which evens out the highs and lows experienced by people with diabetes and/or hypoglycemia. The longer it takes your body to digest and process the foods you eat (unless due to high levels of fact - see below) the better health you can expect. Avoiding the extreme ups and downs of blood sugar levels will make anyone feel better!

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4. You Might not be able to Diet and Exercise it Away

This myth drives me crazy!

Not only is it untrue with respect to people with Type 1 diabetes, who have suffered an auto-immune reaction, but many people with Type 2 diabetes also have the disease as a result of heredity, instead of lifestyle choices.

For example, my paternal grandfather is 89 years old. He is 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighs only 140 pounds. Yet, he has had Type 2 diabetes for the past 5 years. He is so slight that we worry about him fading away. Our biggest challenge is to help him keep weight on, without causing him to lose more weight due to an erroneous match of medicine to carbohydrate ingestion.

Bottom line is that, whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, you may not be able to reverse it with diet and exercise. Some of it depends on heredity and age. Other times, the further the disease has progressed, the less likely it is to turn it around.

Laughter is the best medicine?

Laughter is the best medicine?

5. Water, Hormones and Age Play a Big Role

Of these three factors, the only one you can control is water consumption. Dehydration causes stress on the body, which can, in turn, raise blood glucose levels.

Yet, hormones and aging are two additional factors over which we have no control. I know that my cousin had significant high blood sugar issues when he went through puberty. I also understand that women going through menopause may experience otherwise unexplained swings in blood glucose levels. At the age of 43, I am not there yet, but believe me, I am watching and waiting!

6. High Fat Meals Slow Absorption and Cause Later Spikes in Blood Glucose

Since I was diagnosed with diabetes, there are three things that I simply cannot eat: pizza, french fries and potato chips.

Yes, I can try to enjoy these favorites, but I generally have significant problems dosing my insulin appropriately to avoid highs and lows.

With an insulin pump, you can "spread out" a shot so that the insulin does not peak too early or too late. However, I can tell you that estimating the amount of carbs and fat in a "typical" restaurant meal is very difficult. Even after 10 years, I still tend to underestimate.

Even when cooking at home, it can be tough. If only all recipes could come with a reliable "Nutrition Facts," plus guidance as to what constitutes a single serving. Many people struggle with underestimating the amount of food they are actually consuming!

High fat meals like pizza, fries, chips, "Chinese food" and many Italian food options take more time than usual to digest. This means that diabetics who dose insulin or other medications to peak within 1-2 hours after a meal may suffer a low on the early side, then have high blood sugar 3-4 hours later.

Personally, I find that high fat meals are just too difficult to predict in advance. Accordingly, I rarely enjoy items that I used to love years ago. Probably because I simply cannot love them without worry and guilt.

A 6-year old girl talks about living with diabetes

7. The Effects of Exercise Last Longer than you might Think

How ironic that one of the treatments most frequently prescribed - exercise - can actually cause you to suffer hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.

I am a marathon runner. After any episode of exercise lasting 2 hours or longer, I often have to watch my blood glucose levels more closely for the rest of the day.

After prolonged intense exercise, your muscles will continue to uptake glucose at a more efficient rate. Dehydration comes into play, as well as potentially decreased appetite.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about exercise and also test more frequently than usual before an afterward. At times, your blood sugar can actually spike into hyperglycemia due to the stress of the exercise itself. No one can predict how they will react to intensive exercise when they have diabetes. Your best bet is to keep close tabs on your levels for at least 12-24 hours afterward.

Insulin pumps can help keep diabetes in check

Insulin pumps can help keep diabetes in check

9. Doctors Only Know a Fraction of the Variables that Affect Blood Glucose Levels

When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2003, my endocrinologist told me then that medical doctors only know a fraction of the variables that affect blood glucose levels.

In other words, we know that what you eat, how much you exercise, your age, hormone levels, stress, etc. can have an impact on whether you have hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. However, you can have the exact same "day," with respect to each of these variables, and your levels will be different.

Some of it may have to do with the amount and quality of sleep. Other factors could have to do with the intensity of exercise and any change in muscle to fat ratio in your body. Could the lunar cycle have something to do with it? Who knows!

The bottom line is that there are thousands, if not millions of factors that come into play in our daily lives - all of which affect potential blood sugar levels.

8. Stress Plays a Big Role in Blood Glucose Levels

Do you know what happens when you are under stress and/or have an illness?

Your body releases stored glucose as it is used to doing for thousands of years, in a fight or flight response.

Many years ago, humans adapted to living, hunting and surviving in the wild by developing a response that allowed them to key into stressful situations in which they would have to literally run for their lives.

When a predator arrived on the scene, we did not have to immediately fuel up in order to be able to run away. Rather, stored glucose in our livers would be released - dumped into our blood stream - to give us a quick source of fuel to use in running away or fighting.

While we do not face similar stresses in the wild these days, our bodies are still attuned to the effects of stress hormones, which are released in modern day circumstances. The flight or fight response causes a quick rise in blood glucose levels, even if we do not use that energy to run away.

The daily stress that we experience in the 21st century is vastly different than that experienced by our ancestors many years ago. However, the physiological response is just the same!

Blood Sugar Levels and Diabetics

10. Close Monitoring is your Best Bet in Managing Diabetes

Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes, keeping a close watch on your blood glucose levels is your best bet to staying healthy.

Personally, I have been frustrated with my insurance company's reluctance to pay for enough diabetes test strips to keep my healthy.

If you hare experiencing a similar situation, have your doctor contact your insurance to prescribe a certain amount of test strips to help you appropriately manage your diabetes. At a minimum, you should test 4-6 times a day, whether you are Type 1 or Type 2. If you have Type 1 diabetes and are active, you may need to test 8-10 times per day. Be sure to factor in 1-2 test strips per day that might be "lost" due to error messages.

No matter your circumstances, close monitoring of your blood glucose levels can help you prevent extreme highs and lows that may result in more serious conditions if not immediately addressed. If you do not feel like you have the freedom to frequently monitor blood sugar levels, you could downplay or explain away symptoms, including hunger, thirst, confusion, tiredness, etc.

Believe me - after having lived with diabetes for 10 years, I have mistaken the symptoms for "normal' and vice versa many times, just because I didn't want to test my blood glucose

Don't fall into the same trap! Be safe and healthy!

© 2012 Stephanie Marshall


Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 13, 2013:

Thank you so much - I think its helpful sharing my own personal stories to help others facing a diagnosis of diabetes. I appreciate your comments! Best to you, Stephanie

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 13, 2013:

What an excellent, well researched health hub with an effectively told personal story. So sorry you have to deal with this. You have effectively taken charge of a difficult personal challenge. Voted up and sharing.

ryanjhoe from Somewhere over the rainbow on March 13, 2013:

I have several family members who have diabetes, so to prevent diabetes risk I tried to always living healthy life by consuming healthy food and doing exercise. Thanks for sharing this. This hub helps a lot! :)

Claire Fenton from Boise, Idaho on November 13, 2012:

Really fantastic hub and so much great info! Thanks for sharing with us- really enjoyed the videos.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on August 01, 2012:

Hey Zsuzsy- so great to "see" you!! Hope you are well, too. Sorry to hear about the diagnosis. Hope treatment is going OK and you are feeling better. Keeping you in my thoughts! Best, Steph

Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on August 01, 2012:

Calling Diabetes a challenge to live with is an understatement. It's just been six month that I was diagnosed and I'm just starting to manage.

Once again a great hub.

Hope you and your gang are well

regards Zsuzsy

nicediabetes from Australia on July 27, 2012:

Great hub, well done on the good work

Lightshare on July 27, 2012:

Thank you very much Steph. Great informations.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 18, 2012:

Thank you Carol! Diabetes can be a challenging disease, but fortunately it is manageable. All the best, Steph

carol stanley from Arizona on July 18, 2012:

You did a great job on this hub. You covered all the different aspects of the disease. I know that living with Diabetes is a challenge that you seemed to be dealing with very well. Thanks for sharing all this information Thumbs UP

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 12, 2012:

Thanks very much bdegiulio! Appreciate the read and comment!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on July 12, 2012:

Steph, well written and very helpful information for anyone with diabetes. Thanks for sharing. This hub is packed with info and I'm sure required much research.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 11, 2012:

Hi Chuck, very interesting studies re: Type 1 diabetes! I have always seemed to suffer from SADS, so I wonder if there is a sound connection between vitamin D and diabetes.... Appreciate the comments! Steph

Chuck Bluestein from Morristown, AZ, USA on July 11, 2012:

Another problem of modern people. In the late 1800s, 85% of the children in Europe and America had a terrible disease! As far as diet, a vitamin by definition needs to be gotten from diet since the body cannot produce it.

So what vitamin is not a vitamin and diet is not the issue with it. Dr Cedric Garland is a Doctor of Public Health. His job is to find the cause of disease and to get rid of it. He says that type 1 diabetes and breast cancer should not exist. It is a mistake of humans that they exist.

For a million years all humans lived in Africa. So why did all these children in Europe and America have a disease that people in Africa did not have did not have? You live too far from the equator.

The way doctors helped the children in the late 1800s was they told them to sunbathe. Then rickets was cured when they discovered vitamin D, that is not a vitamin, in 1922.

Dr. Andrew Weil has a natural health college in AZ. He graduated Harvard Medical School. He says that a lack of vitamin D can cause many problems including obesity and diabetes making it good for diabesity.

The study in Finland (very far from the equator) gave 2,000 I.U. of vitamin D to babies during their first year and followed them for 31 years. It reduced type 1 diabetes by 80%. So Dr Garland says that lack of vitamin D or sunlight has caused breast cancer and type 1 diabetes.

Webmd does not mention this study but look what they say about vitamin D and type 1 diabetes:

Chuck Bluestein from Morristown, AZ, USA on July 11, 2012:

As far as type 2 diabetes and thin people, sugar is metabolized in the muscle. If someone has anorexia nervosa and is starving to death, it is figured that they have very little body fat. But when checked they usually have 35% body fat. So they have very little muscle.

Our ancestors used to lift and carry things. That is why we walk upright. Modern people have a lack of muscle and need to do resistance training to build muscle. "Use it or lose it." Muscles is the main reason that Schwarzenegger became governor of California. More muscle is better for sugar metabolism.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 09, 2012:

Thank you teaches - I was happy (in some ways) to find out that Nick Jonas has diabetes, given his huge appeal and potential influence on young people. Great to know that he has so much support. Any type of grueling activity like touring, etc., is difficult on diabetics. Best, Steph

Dianna Mendez on July 09, 2012:

I remember this interview with Nick Jonas on the Larry King show. He is so young to have to deal with diabetes but he handles it well. The band and staff also support him during the tours. Great coverage on this disease and just know it will be helpful to so many.

kumar24894 from Fuck of HUBPAGES on July 09, 2012:

Eating diabetes medicines can increase your weight. You can read this hub

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 09, 2012:

Hi Blissful Writer - My endocrinologist believes that the stress of a twin pregnancy caused the auto-immune reaction. He said that he is surprised that it came on relatively late in life. However, Mary Tyler Moore was also diagnosed with Type 1 (or Type 1.5) at age 33. I have another friend - he used to be an airline pilot - who developed the disease at age 38!

chepkoluumugulel from Texas on July 08, 2012:

Thanks @stephhicks68. I think it is far much better when people are aware of the signs for low and high blood sugar because then, they will do the necessary when such happens.

BlissfulWriter on July 08, 2012:

Thanks for sharing this informative first-hand information about diabetes. Your type of diabetes appears to fall under the category of the type they call "latent autoimmune diabetes of adults". Because your's is type 1 but did not occur in childhood. Some loosely call this type 1.5 diabetes. My question is what triggered the autoimmune response that causes the immune system to attack body's own beta cells in the pancreas?

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 08, 2012:

Hi chepkoluumugel,

So sorry to hear about your Uncle's passing. That scares me very much as a diabetic. :(

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 08, 2012:

Hi everyone! Loving these great comments. Thanks again - and I am humbled that an article written based on my own experiences and knowledge living with diabetes is so well received!

@CollisionBlast, you may have hypoglycemia that is unrelated to diabetes. Test your blood sugar when you feel weak and shaky and let your doctor know! All the best, Steph

chepkoluumugulel from Texas on July 08, 2012:

This is an awesome article stephhicks68. Thank you for taking the time to put together a very educative article like this one. This health condition almost affected every family in one way or another. It could be anyone close or a distance relative. Education on how to manage diabetes is critical. I just lost an uncle last week because his blood sugar suddenly dropped and couldn’t make it to the this is a very touchy subject to me. Thanks again for providing such useful information.

Fiddleman on July 08, 2012:

You did your homework on this and it is a great write. I am Type II and this is one of the most helpful articles I have read. Thnak you.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on July 08, 2012:

This is a very well written, easy to understand article packed with much information that debunks commonly misunderstood facts about Diabetes Types I and II.

I commend you for sharing your personal experience and for making it clear that for many diabetics, even if they maintain a healthy weight and follow a regular exercise and eating regimen, good control of blood sugars can still remain elusive. In such cases, the feedback gleaned from frequent checking of blood glucose levels can be critical to achieving good control.

You set an excellent example of walking the fine line between being fully aware of, and dealing with, potential complications and yet still living a full, active life.

I'm voting this hub up across the board except for funny and sharing it.

Anyone who has diabetes or knows someone else who has it will benefit from reading this article.

KevinC9998 on July 08, 2012:

Great article Steph, your opening paragraph says it all! That is how I felt a few years ago when I was diagnosed as a Type 2 soldier in this war. This is a short hub about my feelings at that time- hope you enjoy; Congratulations on a very well written and informative hub which I have voted Up and Awesome. Kevin

Donnie Smith on July 08, 2012:

This is a great article. You did a very thorough job writing it. I have checked my blood sugar, but it was alright. However, sometimes I get very shaky and weak. If I eat sugar, it will help me. Not sure what that is. My father-in-law had and I have seen what it can do if you do not stay on top of it. He is now in very bad condition. Anyway, great post and thanks for sharing!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 08, 2012:

Thanks so much everyone! There is a lot of mis-information out there on diabetes. I appreciate the comments and votes! Best, Steph

kelleyward on July 08, 2012:

Fantastic hub Steph! I also get upset when people think diet and exercise will reverse diabetes. Hopefully many people will read your hub to get a better understanding of the disease. Voted up and shared! Kelley

lilalollie from The Netherlands on July 08, 2012:

Well written hub, useful information!


Nan Mynatt from Illinois on July 08, 2012:

Thanks for your extensive research on diabetes. My physician said that it can be overcomed with proper diet and exercise. It is hard work and I hope that you are able to keep yours in control. I marrrked you up.

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on July 07, 2012:


Thank you so much for this informative and well-written hub! I do not have diabetes, but my mother has had it for a while, and I will definitely be sharing this with her. I feel your pain because I am in essence watching you live your everyday life through my mother. Having diabetes is no walk in the park, but definitely something that can be maintained if treated right. Again, I can not thank you enough for all time and the research you put into this hub. It is a wealth of knowledge and I voted yes all the way in your poll. Thanks so much Steph, I am sharing, and I hope you have a great night!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2012:

Excellent job of research and myth-busting, Steph! I can see this as invaluable information for those with diabetes. Hopefully this will increase awareness.

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