Doctors, patients call for more awareness on Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a result of the body being unable to produce insulin, and does not stem from eating the wrong food, said an endocrinologist. Their pancreas naturally does not produce enough insulin.
SINGAPORE: Mr Goh Wee Hou was 10 years old when he felt tired and thirsty all the time.
He was later diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition where the pancreas is unable to produce insulin normally.
“My mom was with me at the time. I remember her looking shocked and very worried and she started to cry,” said the 43-year-old, who has had to visit the doctor regularly since then to keep his condition in check. “She asked the doctor, ‘What are we going to do? How did this happen?’”
Type 1 diabetes is a form of diabetes usually diagnosed in children and young adults.
"I was 10 years old at that time. As a child of that age, you don't want to feel different from other children. You don't want to be treated differently,” recounted Mr Goh of his struggles after being diagnosed at such a young age. “And most importantly, you don't want to be looked down upon. And so I did not share my diabetic condition with anyone."
Mr Goh added that there was a sense that the future was bleak. “There was a sense of hopelessness,” he said. “So I struggle a great deal with that.”
While Type 1 diabetes is less common than Type 2 diabetes, doctors and patients are calling for more awareness about the condition.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TYPES OF DIABETES
The challenges facing diabetes patients partly comes from a lack of awareness among the general public, said experts.
"There are clear, distinct differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes," said Dr Daphne Gardner, a senior consultant from the Department of Endocrinology at Singapore General Hospital.
"Friends, family members sometimes don't understand the clear distinct differences between these two entities, and therefore they put them together as one entity."
The main difference between the two types of diabetes lies in a hormone called insulin, which regulates the blood glucose level and helps the body use sugar for energy.
For Type 1 diabetics, their pancreas naturally does not produce enough insulin.
On the other hand, Type 2 patients are unable to utilise the insulin effectively.
However a lack of public awareness means there are still some misconceptions.
"The first misconception is that diabetes happens generally among older people or overweight people. And that's simply not true," said Mr Goh. "What people don't realise is that younger people also get diabetes and this is what we call Type 1 diabetes.
"So for Type 1 diabetics like myself, it is not the result of age or lifestyle or weight."
Mr Goh added: "The second thing that I think a lot of people don't really understand is that Type 1 diabetics can eat sweet things.
"It's a matter of firstly, understanding how much carbohydrates you're eating. And then secondly, estimating how much insulin you need for your body to manage those carbohydrates and manage the blood sugars in your body," he said.
"So, after you are able to calculate the carbohydrates on your plate, and estimate the right amount of insulin needed, you can actually eat quite a lot of things that you want, even if they are sweet things like desserts or ice cream."
Lifelong insulin replacement is currently the only treatment for Type 1 diabetes.
But some patients tend to feel self-conscious, when they are seen injecting insulin with pumps or a needle and syringe outside of their homes.
Doctors warned that poor management of the condition could lead to complications such as kidney failure, heart disease, nerve damage and blindness.
“Basically, your blood flows through your body, it affects all parts,” said Mr Goh. “And so if you don't control your blood sugars well, the long-term consequences are very severe.”
DELIVERING LIFE-SAVING MEDICATION
“When individuals with Type 1 diabetes head out to have a meal, and need to dose in insulin, they're often very self-conscious,” said Dr Gardner. “They're not doing drugs, they're actually delivering life-saving medication.”
To dispel the myths, a children's picture book was launched in June this year.
The Ministry of Health is working on more reference materials. It is also facilitating negotiations on the price of drugs and devices needed by patients, which will help increase their access to treatments to improve their quality of life.
Individuals with Type 1 diabetes do not get the condition just because they have eaten the wrong food, said Dr Gardner.
“In fact, there's nothing that could have prevented the onset of Type 1 diabetes. And so, they shouldn't be judged for what they've eaten or not eaten correctly,” she added.
“But we could think about possibly having a more inclusive and kind society that understands the differences between these two subtypes, and get more educated and aware about it.”