We know there’s a huge amount to take in when you’re newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, so we’ve put together this guide to help make sense of it all.
A diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is usually a big shock and some people might wonder how they’re going to cope with the condition.
Diabetes can be a struggle to come to terms with and each person will come to terms with having diabetes in their own way and at their own pace.
Some people may adjust quickly, but for many, it can take years to truly come to terms with this important part of their lives. Talking to trusted others and finding a supportive community can be extremely powerful in coming to terms with diabetes and feeling more in control.
One of the questions which often strikes around the time of diagnosis is what effect type 1 diabetes will have on daily life? Will it prevent me from taking part in activities? Will it affect my present or future career? Will I have diabetes for life?
Managing Type 1 Diabetes
We’ve created this guide to try to answer these questions and more.
Will I need to take injections and have regular blood tests?
Yes, people with type 1 diabetes will need to go on insulin injections or an insulin pump and have regular blood tests to support them with the safe management of their diabetes. Some of us adjust to injections and blood tests better than others, but overall it is not as painful as you may think.
Blood Glucose Testing
Blood glucose testing is the main way you will be able to identify what your blood glucose levels are. Your doctor or healthcare team will likely give you a blood glucose meter. Testing your blood sugar levels helps you to make informed decisions about your diet, activity and, if self-adjusting insulin, dosing requirements.
In order to test your blood sugar levels, you will need:
a blood glucose meter
a test strip and
a lancing device
Along with your blood glucose meter, you’ll be given a prescription for test strips and lancing devices. If in doubt, ask your healthcare professional.
Some people might also be offered a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) or FGM (flash glucose monitor). These are small devices which are placed on the arm and can be scanned by your phone or a digital reader to give you a glucose reading.
When you are injecting insulin, you should aim to inject into the fatty tissue just underneath the skin. If you think you are injecting into the muscle, you may want to change your technique or ask your GP to prescribe shorter needles. You’ll be shown injection technique by your nurse or healthcare team.
Most injections are not painful. The chance of pain is greatly minimised by using a new needle. Some tips to help avoid or minimise pain when injecting, include:
Always use a new needle.
Use a needle that is the right length. Your health team can advise you on whether you’re using the right needle length.
Use insulin and a needle which is at room temperature.
Push the needle in quickly when injecting.
Try not to wiggle the needle as you’re injecting or withdrawing the needle.
You may notice a little blood leaks out after injecting. This is not to worry about, it just means the needle has gone through a small blood vessel. If this happens, you may notice a raised area of your skin from the blood underneath but this should ease down over the next few hours and you’ll be left with a bit of a bruise for a few days.
Some people might also be offered an insulin pump by their healthcare team. An insulin pump is a small electronic device that delivers insulin to you via a small tube which sits under your skin. Your healthcare team will be able to provide more information about this option.
One of the questions many people feel concerned about is whether they will have to give up on their favourite foods. Having diabetes does mean you will need to be conscious of how different food affects your blood glucose levels but shouldn’t mean anything is completely off limits.
Those living with type 1 diabetes will usually find that they can enjoy a treat from time to time but perhaps not as regularly, or quite as carefree, as they could before their diagnosis.
For some people, this may present the opportunity to find enjoyment in new foods. While there isn’t one recommended dietary approach for type 1 diabetes, there are some things you will need to think about. One of the most important aspects of type 1 diabetes is to be able to assess how much carbohydrate is in each meal and therefore to balance your carbohydrate and insulin intake.
Carbohydrate counting can be a challenge for some people. Fortunately, there is help at hand and there are diabetes education courses which can be attended for free on the NHS. The courses are often very popular with people with type 1 diabetes. Ask your GP or diabetes team about which courses are available in your area.
Hobbies & Sport
Another common cause for concern for many people is whether they will still be able to enjoy their hobbies and sports. The answer to this question is largely a yes. There are very few hobbies which type 1 diabetes should prevent you from continuing. People with diabetes have been rock and pop stars, footballers, racing drivers, dancers and politicians. With this diagnosis, you can still live a full and fulfilling life.
For more dangerous hobbies, such as car racing or deep sea diving, these may not be as accessible to people on certain medications, such as insulin, so make sure to speak to your healthcare team if you’re not sure.
In most cases, diabetes should not be a barrier to driving. One of the important issues with driving with diabetes is hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels), which can affect people on insulin.
Drivers at risk of hypoglycemia need to be fully capable of spotting the symptoms of low blood sugar levels to avoid accidents at the wheel.
When driving with type 1 diabetes, there are some guidelines you will need to follow as set out by the DVLA. You will need to inform the DVLA of your diagnosis and agree to test your blood glucose levels regularly before and during driving to make sure you are safe to drive. Make sure to always have hypo treatment, like glucose tablets, in the car with you and if you do need to treat a hypo, be sure to stop or pull over as soon as it is safe to do so.
There are very few jobs for which people with diabetes are not able to do. One profession that people with type 1 diabetes may not be eligible for are certain military positions. Being on certain medication like insulin may also prevent you from more dangerous jobs such as becoming an airline pilot or diving instructor.
If driving is a part of your work, you may need to meet certain criteria to continue.
A type 1 diabetes diagnosis can cause a grieving for your lost health or your life before diabetes, in the same way as you may grieve for a lost loved one. It is a natural human tendency to live life rarely thinking about our health or mortality. And why should we, until something life-changing happens, such as being diagnosed with a chronic health problem.
A new type 1 diabetes diagnosis can also be very confusing. There is a lot of information to take on board, but remember your healthcare team and support network are there to help.
The experience and after-effects of diagnosis can resonate for a long time, so whether you are recently diagnosed or have had type 1 diabetes for many years, you may still be experiencing its impact. If you are struggling with coming to terms with your diagnosis, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional who can support you with this. Finding a community of others experiencing a similar health journey can also help.
It’s not a pleasant subject, but a worry that troubles many people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is whether they will go blind or need to have amputations. Statistically, people with diabetes have a higher risk of blindness and amputations than the general population, however, these complications are avoidable.
Maintaining good diabetes control and ensuring you receive all your annual diabetes health checks will help you to steer clear of serious diabetic complications.
People with diabetes should receive a number of important diabetes health checks each year. It is important that these checks are carried out at least once each year. All people with type 1 diabetes, with the exception of children under 12, will need retinopathy (eye damage), nephropathy (kidney damage), neuropathy (nerve damage) and other tests like blood pressure to be carried out each year.
Will I have diabetes forever?
At the current time, a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes will mean having the condition for life.
People with type 2 diabetes have been in the news for putting their diabetes into remission, however, it’s important to note that these people have not been cured but have instead been able to come off medication and control their diabetes by lifestyle alone. Unfortunately, diabetes remission is not possible for people with type 1 diabetes who will always need to use insulin to control their blood glucose levels.
However, as we’ve looked at, although there might be a few extra things for you to think about now, this doesn’t mean that a type 1 diabetes diagnosis is going to stop you from living a healthy and fulfilling life!