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Today's Family Magazine

Diabetes can be diagnosed at any age

Aug 06, 2016 12:09PM ● By Today's Family
By Jamie Lober

Juvenile diabetes, more often referred to as type 1 diabetes, is an autoimmune disease that commonly affects northeast Ohio families. “A switch is triggered that causes the body to actively kill off insulin-producing cells or beta cells inside the body,” said Kim Degardeyn, marketing and communications development manager at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF)– Northeast Ohio Chapter. This results in having to inject insulin either by shots or a pump. Given that adults are diagnosed with type 1 as well nowadays, it is no longer considered a juvenile disease. “People in their 20s, 30s and 40s think they have the flu and end up being diagnosed with type 1 because the symptoms are similar like feeling sluggish, having body aches, urinating constantly, having blurred vision and just not feeling good,” said Degardeyn.

The only way to treat is through insulin and all people are not the same. “There are so many variables like stress that affects blood sugar and makes it go higher; and exercise like competitive sports involves adrenaline that can raise blood sugar,” said Degardeyn. There is often a fine line between blood sugar that is too high and too low. “The high blood sugars over time can cause kidney failure, blindness, amputation and heart disease whereas the low blood sugars can be dangerous immediately and cause a seizure or a coma,” said Degardeyn.

The tricky part is that there is not a whole lot you can do. “With type 2 diabetes you can change your lifestyle and not have the disease anymore, but with type 1 that is not the case—you are a type 1 diabetic for life,” said Degardeyn.

Since type 2 diabetics do produce insulin, they can take pills to boost the amount they are making whereas type 1 diabetics do not make insulin at all. With early identification, type 1 diabetes can be managed. “The classic signs are frequent urination, thirst, being irritable and cranky, sluggish and dizziness,” said Degardeyn. There is not one age where it is more common than others. While it sounds straightforward, it is not always the first thing that strikes a parent’s mind. “We thought our son had a bladder infection and when the doctor tested his urine he had sugar in it and his blood sugar was in the 500s and the only way that is possible is if you are a diabetic,” said Degardeyn.

Fortunately methods for treating type 1 have improved over the years. “In the past, blood sugar was tested through urine, but now they can do finger sticking where they prick your finger, put it on the test strip and a number comes out that is much more accurate than the urine was,” said Degardeyn.

There are many handy tools as well. “There is a continuous glucose monitor that can read your blood sugar every five minutes and give you trend information on how your body is doing and what it is doing,” said Degardeyn. JDRF is the leading global organization for funding type 1 diabetes research and they hope that one day there will be a cure. “Our tagline is that we are trying to turn type 1 into type none,” said Degardeyn.

There is reason to be optimistic. “There are wonderful things coming down the pipe that could really change the life of people who have type 1 diabetes like the artificial pancreas which basically combines a pump and continuous glucose monitor into smart technology,” said Degardeyn.

There are ongoing events throughout the year where you can make a difference as well. “We do a walk in September in Cleveland and in the Akron/Canton area we have a ride program, a gala; and a golf outing,” said Degardeyn.

There are also excellent services. “On May 30, 2015 we will be doing Talking Type 1 which is a free, all-day seminar where doctors come in and do sessions on different aspects of dealing with type 1 like going off to college, nutrition and diabetes or helping teens,” said Degardeyn.

Some initiatives are geared specifically toward kids. “We have a program called Bag of Hope where we come out and team you and your child with somebody who is close to the same age and bring out a bag and talk to them because it is a life-changing disease,” said Degardeyn. Networking with others can help you through the transition of being newly diagnosed.

Type 1 diabetes is a condition that affects many. “It is not just the child or person that gets diagnosed; it is their entire family and the people that have type 1 diabetes are like the heroes because they make the disease look easy when it is not at all,” said Degardeyn.

For more info about JDRF and type 1 diabetes, visit, call 216-524-6000 or email [email protected].