Friends and Roommates

Do you have a friend, sibling, or significant other with Type 1 diabetes? We commend you for taking a step toward learning more about it. Check out some of these frequently asked questions that should give you a better understanding of what Type 1 diabetes is and how you can support your PWD (that’s Person With Diabetes!)


What is Type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects the body’s ability to process food and turn it into energy. In people with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells in the pancreas (which make insulin) no longer function. Insulin is a hormone which turns sugar into energy; without insulin, sugar builds up in the blood stream and the body’s cells have no way to transform the sugar into energy.  Without insulin, the body is starved of resources. You cannot survive without insulin. PWDs need to inject insulin into their body through an insulin pump, insulin pen, or syringe; and to monitor their blood sugar to see how much food or insulin they need to help keep the levels of both balanced. Unfortunately, there isn’t an exact science to it as there are many other factors which can affect blood sugars, including stress, hormones, weather, and physical activity.  

What is a Type 3?

In the diabetes community, "Type 3" refers to the friends and loved ones of people with diabetes. It stems from the idea that diabetes affects not just the PWD, but their loved ones as well.

Is my friend going to be okay?

While managing Type 1 diabetes can be exhausting at times, most PWD’s will/can live a long and normal life – get an awesome job, get married, have kids, travel the world – the whole nine yards. (Thank you, technology!) Like everyone – regardless of whether or not they have diabetes – they need to take care of their bodies and see a doctor regularly. 
They even do things that many people without diabetes don’t do - like climbing mountains, professional race car driving, and sailing around the world. There really is nothing that a person with diabetes can’t do. And most of the time, you won’t know that someone has diabetes unless they tell you, or you spot them with an insulin pump or syringe. 

What happens when a PWD’s blood sugar is below the suggested range and how is it treated?

A low blood sugar means that there is not enough glucose in a PWD’s body. Although having diabetes means that a person's blood sugar runs higher than normal, low blood sugars happen because of accidental overdosing of the insulin they take to control their high blood sugar. This can occur for any number of reasons - unexpected excercise, miscounting carbohydrates and stress are frequent culprits. They happen fairly often, and are usually easily treated by eating or drinking something with fast-acting sugar, such as a juice box or glucose tabs. Sometimes PWD get creative – skittles, fruit leather, bananas, gushers, jelly beans, smarties… the list goes on. 

What are the symptoms of low blood sugar and what does it feel like? 

A PWD with a low blood sugar may feel dizzy, confused, tired, or lightheaded - but everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all symptom. Having a low blood sugar is not a good feeling, and even if a PWD treats their low blood sugar properly, it takes several minutes to start feeling better. Give them a few minutes to get back to normal.

What can I do to help a low blood sugar? 

They will probably take care of this and quietly sip on a juice box while they continue to do something. In that case, you might want to ask if they need anything but don’t push it. Sometimes, low blood sugars hit a bit harder, and they might act a bit confused or out of it – if that is the case, you might want to ask them if they are feeling alright and offer to grab their meter so they can check. They’ll need a few minutes to recover, so hold tight and wait for them to get back in range. It’s probably not a good idea to bring up any heavy topics until they feel better, so try to keep it light. It might be that the most helpful thing you can do is sit with them and wait until they feel better. 

What happens when a PWD’s blood sugar is higher than the suggested range and how is it treated? 

A high blood sugar happens, meaning that there is too much sugar in the blood stream, and not enough insulin to turn that sugar into energy. It is treated by the PWD taking insulin, drinking water, and sometimes taking it easy. Everyone usually has their own routine and it usually depends on how they feel. Sometimes someone can be 300 and feel like a truck hit them, other times they barely notice.

What are the symptoms of high blood sugar and what does it feel like? 

A PWD with a high blood sugar may be very thirsty, easily irritable, tired, and sluggish.

What can I do to help a high blood sugar? 

Your PWD may not feel like leaving home until they feel better – just try to be sensitive that they may not be feeling their best. You could try offering them water, give them some space and time to rest. Don’t add to their stress by starting an argument or asking them to do something that requires too much effort. 

Can a person with diabetes drink alcohol?

Just like someone without diabetes, PWDs take all the factors of their life into consideration, and some decide that they are comfortable drinking alcohol. If they have decided that they are going to drink alcohol, there are a few things to be aware of when doing so. A person with diabetes should make sure to eat before drinking, and eat carbohydrates after, as alcohol can lower blood sugar. If a PWD is drunk, it might be harder to tell if their blood sugar is low or high, and they should monitor it closely.


In Case of an Emergency

Don’t freak out – the following are things that do not happen often, but we want to make you aware of them in case of emergency.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) 

This happens when there is not enough insulin in the body and means that a PWD has a very high blood sugar. Without enough insulin, your body cannot transform sugar into energy and instead burns fat as energy. This process produces ketones in the blood and urine which causes them to turn acidic. When high levels of ketones are detected, a PWD should call their health care provider for help in getting their blood sugar down. Left untreated, a PWD can go into a coma. If a PWD passes out, call 911. DKA symptoms are similar to high blood sugar symptoms, but exasperated. Often a person experiencing DKA seems lethargic. They may also be experiencing the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fatigue, dry mouth, thirst, difficulty breathing, and confusion. If you suspect that a PWD is experiencing DKA, explain your concerns and gently suggest that they check their blood sugar. 

Extreme Low Blood Sugar

This happens when a low blood sugar goes untreated or unrecognized. If a low blood sugar goes untreated for long enough, a PWD may not be able to take care of it themselves. They may not be able to function normally, and blackouts or seizures may occur. If a PWD passes out, call 911.  
The symptoms for extreme low blood sugar vary, but confusion and unresponsiveness are common. If you suspect that a PWD has a very low blood sugar, call 911. The operator may ask you if your PWD has a Glucagon. Glucagon is injected into the body and tells your liver to produce glucose quickly. Your PWD may or may not have one, but it’s a good idea to know where it’s kept just in case. They can explain to you how to use it. 


Check out the following resources to for even more information and support:

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