The friends and family guide to Type 2 diabetes
Editor’s Note: This content is a part of Beyond Type 2’s guidebook, which includes guides for everyone who has a Type 2 in their life. Check out the rest of our customized guides for the different people in your life here!
Consider this guide to help you navigate Type 2 as a friend or family member.
What is Type 2?
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot properly use insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. This is also known as insulin resistance. When we eat, our bodies break down complex carbohydrates into glucose, the fuel we need. The pancreas releases insulin that acts as a kind of key to unlock the cells, allowing glucose to enter and be absorbed. In Type 2, the pancreas initially produces extra insulin, but eventually cannot keep up with production in order to keep blood sugar levels in check. Without insulin, sugar stays in the blood and can cause serious damage to the entire body.
How do you manage it?
We use several, different tools! These include our glucose meter, monitors and oral meds. The glucose meter is a device that measures blood sugar. We use a device that pricks our finger and we put the blood sample onto a test strip. From there, the test strip is read by the meter and gives us a number on the meter screen.
Some of us must use insulin through multiple daily injections or even an insulin pump. In some other cases, insulin is not necessary but we use oral meds.
What are the devices that you use?
CGM, or continuous glucose monitor, measures glucose levels in real-time throughout the day and night. The CGM sensor is inserted under the skin to measure glucose levels in fluid tissue. The sensor is connected to a transmitter that sends the information to a display device. It is common for many people to have the CGM results sent to their iPhone, Android or Apple Watch.
An insulin pump is the other device that is connected to the body and delivers insulin to the body.
What can you eat?
People with Type 2 can eat anything that they choose to eat, as long as they correctly dose the amount of insulin needed (when using insulin) for the food that is eaten or as long as they consider the effects of these foods in their blood glucose levels. Although someone might assume that sticking to a strict no-carb diet would help us, there are MANY other things that affect our blood sugar. Everything in moderation!
How might it affect our mood?
Type 2 diabetes can be stressful at times, so bear with us! Here are the symptoms of highs and lows.
- High symptoms: nausea, deep sighing breaths, confusion, flushed and warm skin, drowsiness
- Low symptoms: shaky, pale and sweaty skin, headache, hunger, weakness, trembling
The day in the life of someone with Type 2 involves frequent blood sugar testing and oral meds.
What do you do in case of emergency?
In case of an emergency, there are few things to do. If we are ever passed out or unconscious, immediately call emergency services and react to the situation as if we were “having a low” or experiencing severe hypoglycemia. If we are unconscious, you may have to administer emergency glucagon. If we are conscious, fast-acting glucose needs to be taken immediately. This means juice boxes, candy, glucose tablets, or any other sugary food or drink that can be consumed easily.
Top questions/comments to avoid
- “Are you allowed to eat that?” Yes, we can eat anything as long as we take the necessary steps, right amount of insulin or medication to keep our glucose within range. Also, no one “allows” us to do anything, we’re in full control of our own actions. We have health care professionals to guide us, but at the end of the day, we make the final decisions over our own care.
- To another person: “Don’t let (insert name) have any of that.” Steer clear of trying to micromanage our diets. We have a good understanding of what foods can do to our blood sugar.
- Mixing up Type 1 and Type 2 – This is a very frustrating and common mistake that is easy to make for someone who isn’t familiar with diabetes. All of the jokes and movie references that you have seen about diabetes are most likely inaccurate and exaggerated.
- “You shouldn’t be eating that dessert/pizza/pasta/sweet food.” Maybe you should trust that we are on top of it! Also, see point number one.
- Sugar vs. Carbs – If a food doesn’t have any sugar, that doesn’t mean that it is a diabetes dream food of choice. In other words, look at the carbs and sugar content of food before saying anything!
- “This is sugar-free, so you can have it!” “Sugar-free”, “low fat”, and “low carb” are all labels that may seem ideal, but can be hidden with other triggers that can affect our blood sugar.
- “But you are so healthy and active!” There is a myriad of risk factors that contribute to a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Also, just because someone has Type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean they aren’t healthy and active. These types of claims play into stereotypes that stigmatized people with Type 2 and even plays into body-shaming tropes.
- Any and all “I just ate so much dessert so I will get diabetes” jokes. They aren’t funny to us, and they also are not true. You can also save your amputation jokes.
- Avoid acting as a doctor, nutritionist, counselor, or nurse. Type 2 diabetes management is different among individuals. It is frustrating when other people try and tell us what we can and cannot do, or what we should do if we are feeling sick. The most important thing that a friend or family member can do is to be supportive and helpful without being pushy.