Ok, we know that not everybody has to be an expert in diabetes. After all, we’re not all experts in astrophysics or TikTok. But we can’t help wanting to debunk some of the most typical myths about type 1 diabetes – and let the facts shine instead.
So let’s go ahead and debunk 8 of them!
1) Myth: You’re not allowed to eat cake – you can only eat “healthy food”
We’re pretty sure you’ve heard this one before. Someone at your friend’s birthday party asks you curiously (and with astonishment), “are you allowed to eat that?” while pointing at a slice of birthday cake.
Maybe followed up with a “isn’t it difficult to always eat healthy?”.
This is probably the most common misunderstanding about type 1 diabetes.
Fact: The reality is that unless the birthday boy has added poison to the cake, you can eat anything you want – as long as you take the correct dosage of insulin to balance out the carbs. This goes for both sugary snacks and “healthy food” such as fruit.
Of course, you need to think about your diet to live a long and healthy life. But that’s a struggle that everyone deals with!
With type 1 diabetes, it’s still common sense to watch out for carbs because carbs will make blood sugar levels rise. With food and diabetes, it’s easier to keep blood sugar levels stable without food that suddenly sends blood sugar levels high. That’s not to say you can’t eat birthday cake – you just need to have the right amount of insulin.
2) Myth: When someone has an insulin shock, you should give them insulin
… we’re actually in shock (pun intended) that film and television helps to keep this misconception alive. It’s not uncommon to see people on screen being given insulin when they have low blood sugar.
Fact: If you give insulin to someone having an insulin shock, you might put them in real danger. Having an insulin shock means that there’s too much insulin in the system, causing a dangerously low blood sugar level.
What you should do if you witness someone having an insulin shock, is to call an ambulance if the person is unconscious. If you know how to make glucagon injections correctly, you can do this as well.
If they’re conscious and able to swallow, give them some fruit juice and check their blood sugar level after about 10 minutes. But remember to always call a doctor if you’re in doubt.
3) Myth: Type 1, Type 2, tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to
Some people think type 1 and type 2 are pretty much the same thing, some people don’t know the difference, and others don’t even realise there can be two different types!
Fact: Tom-ay-to… banana?
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have things in common, but they most definitely have differences as well. And, actually, the comparisons lead to more misunderstandings than anything else.
What the two types of diabetes mainly have in common is that you can end up with too much glucose in the blood. But the causes of the two types are different, and their treatment can be very different too.
With type 1 diabetes, the pancreas simply stops – partially or completely – producing insulin. This almost always means that insulin injections are needed.
With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas usually still produces insulin, but over time, the body has become resistant to insulin. This can be controlled in different ways depending on the person: diet and exercise, diabetes pills, and/or insulin injections.
Read more about the differences here!
4) Myth: You get diabetes because of eating too much sugar
Did you ever hear someone saying to their kids “Don’t eat that! There’s so much sugar in it; you’ll get diabetes”?
Well, we have.
But let’s be honest – we get how this misunderstanding started. Poor diet and not enough exercise can contribute to type 2 diabetes later in life. At the same time, though, it’s more complicated than that: there are many different reasons a person might have type 2 diabetes, including genetics.
Fact: When it comes to type 1 diabetes, it’s not about eating too much sugar. Too much sugar won’t give you type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 is actually an autoimmune condition – where your immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. Your lifestyle has nothing to do with whether you will be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
5) Myth: If you live healthier it will go away
We wish! Unfortunately, that’s not true.
Fact: When you have type 1, your pancreas has stopped producing insulin. This is a chronic disease, and is not reversible.
Meanwhile, prediabetes is a condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is when blood sugar levels are slightly higher than normal; this is reversible. But diabetes itself is not reversible.
6) Myth: You always get diagnosed as type 1 as a child, and type 2 as an adult
This myth is so widespread that it was a part of the official names! Type 1 used to be called “juvenile diabetes”, and type 2 used to be called “adult-onset diabetes”.
Fact: You can get both types of diabetes at any point in life. It’s most common to have type 2 as an adult, though. Yet, times are changing and the numbers of children getting type 2 diabetes are rising.
Similarly, it’s most common for children to be diagnosed with type 1 – but adults can be diagnosed with it too.
7) Myth: You can always feel if your blood sugar is low or high
Some people can feel high or low blood sugar, but it’s not helpful to assume they always will.
Fact: It takes a great deal of practice to be so aware of your body’s signals – to tell if your numbers are high or low. The signs can be so subtle at first that they’re easy to overlook.
While the symptoms of hyper- and hypoglycemia are a good indication, they’re not always clear.
This is especially the case if you have hypoglycemia unawareness: the low blood sugar doesn’t cause the normal adrenaline response, which means that you don’t actually get any of the symptoms normally related to a very low blood sugar level.
Furthermore, as Hedia’s CMO, Christina, will tell you: it’s possible to have a hidden high blood glucose.
That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to measure regularly and track your measurements.
8) Myth: People with diabetes are not safe drivers
After people constantly telling you that you can’t eat something, the last thing you want people saying is that you can’t drive either!
Fact: People with diabetes need to be vigilant, but diabetes doesn’t automatically make you bad at driving!
It’s mainly low blood sugar (not diabetes itself) that can be a problem when driving. And most authorities know this – which is why people regularly taking insulin are usually required to renew their licence every three years, depending on the country.
There are precautions to ensure a safer drive, like testing blood sugar before driving, and testing every two hours if driving for a long period.
Even still, it’s mostly people who are particularly prone to very low blood sugar or people who have hypoglycemia unawareness who are at risk. A doctor and the authorities will assess whether a person is safe to drive.
Type 1 Diabetes Myths: Debunked. Period.
Phew… That’s it for debunking myths today!
But let’s just quickly sum up the why of our post. The societal preconceived ideas surrounding diabetes can be a bother.
Many people with diabetes who feel that they are on top of dealing with it, also have to deal with misunderstandings of type 1 diabetes fairly regularly.
Nobody expects those without diabetes to be experts – but if you continue to listen and spread the word, we can all try to make life with diabetes easier together.
And that’s really what this post is about.
Have any misunderstandings you’d like to share? We’re updating this post whenever we get new myths to debunk. Please share your ideas with us, and let’s spread the knowledge together!
Ping Signe at firstname.lastname@example.org – with the subject “Diabetes myths”.
Related post: 10 Situations People with type 1 Diabetes can Relate to