Posted by on Friday 6 September 2013

Type 1 Diabetes - a 30 second guide for busy journalists and scriptwriters

30 second guide to Type 1 Diabetes

Too busy even for the introduction? Click here!

OK. Enough really is enough.

Over the past 24 hours I have seen a *lot* of comment about a piece published in a major online newspaper site yesterday. It is a site that often seems to struggle to get the basics of diabetes the right way around - and it is not the only media resource to struggle, not only that, but TV and movie scriptwriters usually get it just as wrong too. I guess it's understandable... before diagnosis I knew *nothing* about T1 Diabetes either. But if you are going to write about it, it would mean an awful lot to all the people living with the condition if you could just spare 30 seconds to get your head around the basics first.

The story concerned a woman who was forced to leave a popular high street fast food outlet because staff mistook her insulin injections for drug abuse. Thankfully it was rapidly corrected by the site in question following a slew of complaints from PWD. The following snippets have been quoted elsewhere from the original version:

"Sarah P, 36, ordered a Big Mac from the fast-food chain last Friday and used her EpiPen to inject herself with insulin to increase her blood sugar level before tucking into her meal."
Type 1 diabetes accounts for ten to 15 per cent of all people with the condition and if they do not inject enough insulin through the day it can lead to a state called hypoglycemia."

I've marked the obvious errors in italics. Inaccuracies that might cause fatalities elsewhere if someone decided to be a 'have-a-go First Aid hero' are marked in bold. I am given to believe the full article contained many more.

I realise that journalists are busy people, so I've put together this 30-second guide to Type 1 Diabetes. That's a full five seconds per bullet point and five seconds to rest at the end.

1. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition unrelated to diet or lifestyle and while commonly diagnosed before the age of 18 can occur at any age of life.

2. Successful management of Type 1 involves avoiding both hypo- (rhymes with LOW) or hyperglycemia (HIGH blood glucose)

3. Insulin drives blood glucose levels down.

4. Carbohydrates (especially sweet/sugary/non-fatty foods) push blood glucose levels up.

5. Almost all 'emergency' situations the public will encounter are likely to involve LOW blood glucose, treated by a sugary drink, glucose tablets, fruit pastilles or jelly babies. Administering insulin under these circumstances is potentially fatal.

So there you go. Not too hard was it? Feel free to pop off and have a celebratory tallskinnycappufrappuwhatnot.

It's all about the balancing act to keep the little green ball in the diagram above centred between the two bars of nastiness. Too much insulin and blood glucose can fall to a level where the brain cannot function properly leading to confusion and sometimes convulsions or unconsciousness. The remedy is simply to raise blood glucose levels with something sweet. Preferably liquid. Hypoglycemia, low blood glucose (if you still don't get it, think hypo-allergenic) is usually swiftly treated by the person themselves, but if you come across a Type 1 behaving very oddly or aggressively, not making sense, slurred speech and sweating profusely - the chances are all they need is a few swigs of Lucozade and in 10 minutes they'll be as right as rain.

Hyperglycemia, high blood glucose (still struggling? think hyper-active) is usually caused by either too much food or not enough insulin. It is annoying, but does not usually present any immediate danger - apart from the fact that the T1 in question is likely to be a bit grumpier and thirstier than normal. Long term though, over several years, it can cause all sorts of nasties... blindness, amptuation, stroke, kidney failure, neuropathy and a host of other 'diabetic complications'.

Of course there's quite a bit more to it than that, and before anyone chips in, yes of course I realise that there are some very urgent medical situations that involve high blood glucose levels leading to DKA, but let's just get the basics in place first and then work from there eh?

If you are hungry for more detail you could always download the Diabetes UK "Reporting on Diabetes: A Guide for Journalists"

1 comment:

  1. I agree, the media are so misinformed! What drove me crazy was when I read the daily mail article about a month ago, regarding Theresa May's diagnosis; in it, it said that 'type one diabetics cannot eat white bread, cakes or crisps'... so not true! I am a type 1 diabetic, but am also recovering from an eating disorder and it is careless journalism like this which I believe contributed somewhat to my difficulties around certain foods - something I am now in the process of changing! I guess I just wanted to say that I can absolutely empathise with this frustration with the media. Thank-you for posting this x