There’s a diabetic student in my CU
Most diabetic students will be well used to managing their own condition. They may have had to take responsibility for it from quite an early age and will, as a result, have developed good organisational and coping skills.
Diabetes is a condition which occurs when the pancreas fails in producing the hormone insulin, resulting in increased blood glucose (sugar) levels. It is important to recognise that there are two distinct kinds of diabetes:
Type 1. This usually appears before the age of 40 and results from the autoimmune destruction of the islet cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This is often due to genetic tendency. Type 1 diabetes is treated by a combination of insulin injections and diet, along with regular blood glucose tests.
Type 2. This type is far more common than Type 1. The pancreas can still produce some insulin, but this will either be insufficient or not work properly. It is more common for adults than children to develop this type, which is usually treated with diet and tablets.
Diabetes is a chronic condition, but it is not visible. There are over 2 million people known to have diabetes in the UK, and so any gathering is likely to contain a number of people with Type 2 and perhaps a few with Type 1. Although some people with Type 2 diabetes eventually progress to needing insulin injections, this is not common and so they do not run the risks associated with insulin. The following therefore applies primarily to Type 1 diabetes. Basically, insulin treatment aims to try and reproduce what happens in someone without diabetes, whose pancreas produces exactly the right amount of insulin to keep blood glucose levels within the normal range, whatever food is being eaten. With diabetes this exact balance is not easy to achieve, and sometimes the blood sugar will be too high or too low. The former situation (hyperglycaemia), if allowed to continue, will eventually cause serious complications but it is not usually critical in the short term (for example in a CU meeting). A low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia or ‘hypo’) on the other hand will need immediate treatment.
Dealing with a ‘hypo’
- Unless newly diagnosed, a person with diabetes should know their own needs very well. They will almost certainly carry some form of sugar in case they feel hypo, and be used to correcting the imbalance themselves without fuss.
- Sometimes though, they may not get enough warning of the hypo and be unable to treat themselves. Without help this can lead to eventual unconsciousness and the need to call an ambulance. Those who tend to get severe hypos will often tell friends and colleagues how to deal with the situation.
- Symptoms of a hypo will vary but can include:
- Excessive sweating
- Lack of concentration, or perhaps a slowing down of speech because there is insufficient glucose reaching the brain
- Feeling faint
- Blurred vision
- Tingling fingers
- Sudden irritability
- Treatment is simple and requires the person to sit down and take some fast acting carbohydrate. If they can talk, ask if they have some glucose with them and help to find it. Three glucose tablets are ideal. Otherwise offer a sugary drink, eg 150ml of a cola-type fizzy drink or two teaspoons of sugar in water. If drinks are not available a small amount of chocolate will also work. Do not overdo the sugar treatment, but once the person has recovered they should be offered some longer acting carbohydrate such as a banana, bread, cereal or plain biscuits.
- If the person becomes unconscious it is advisable to call an ambulance as they may require an injection of glucagon. This stimulates the liver to release its emergency stores of glucose into the blood stream. The person should be placed in the recovery position by someone with First Aid experience, and made comfortable.
- People with both types of diabetes generally eat a healthy, balanced diet. When preparing food it should not be necessary to provide anything special for them, but a discreet question about their needs would probably be appreciated.
- Keep food packaging which provides details of the amount of carbohydrates to inform people with diabetes to know how much insulin they need to inject.
- It is good to be aware of the medical complications which sometimes result from diabetes, such as problems with eyes or feet, and disease of the gums, heart or kidneys. Offer support and empathy and be aware that the person may well feel isolated or depressed by their condition.
- Diabetes is covered under the Equality Act. People with diabetes are under no legal obligation to tell their employer that they have this condition. However sometimes people with diabetes are discriminated against in the workplace and they will need appropriate support if this takes place.
- Finally, remember that there is no substitute for talking to a person with diabetes about their individual needs. Assume nothing - always ask.
www.diabetes.org.uk - for help, support and practical advice.
www.diabetes.co.uk - for information on diabetes.
This resource is part of our Accessible CU series, created especially for Christian Unions by Through The Roof, a Christian Disability charity. To read this article in full, and other articles on including disabled students, download the student version of Through the Roof's publication Be a Roofbreaker for just £3.