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How to Live With Type 1 Diabetes


Being diagnosed with a chronic disease like diabetes is daunting, even more so when the disease affects every single activity in your life, including the pleasurable ones, such as eating a great meal, having a cocktail with your friends or going for a hike.

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Diabetes can essentially be divided into two types: Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is most often diagnosed in children or young adults and requires daily insulin injections. Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is the more common type that's often diagnosed in older people and in those who are somewhat overweight.

Type 1 diabetes is autoimmune in its origin, which means that your body destroys the very cells needed to produce the insulin we all need to survive. Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, people with T1D didn't live very long, and in many developing countries where there is a lack of insulin supply, people can die from it.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 percent of individuals with diabetes and may, in some cases, be reversible if lifestyle changes are implemented.

[Read More: What You Need to Know About Diabetes]

So what can you do to live a healthy, happy life after being diagnosed? I was diagnosed with T1D as a teenager and did many things right, but also many things wrong. Here are some important lessons that I learned:

1. Learn as much as you can. Don't hesitate to bombard your health care professionals with questions. They've seen many cases like yours and can guide you through your struggles and toward small victories.

I also recommend that people with diabetes share their story with fellow patients -- something I didn't do as a teenager. In fact, I hid it for years before I "came out" and started to realize that people with T1D were not defective, but simply suffering from a disease like many other individuals. It is easy to become self-pitying and even narcissistic when you have a serious disease, but that does not help anyone.

2. Protect yourself from complications. The tricky business of diabetes as an active person is that your sugar levels can wreak havoc on your body even during a single day.

The roller coaster of ups and downs can cause both short-term acute situations, such as passing out due to "lows," and long-term consequences of running "high," which, after years of bad control, can destroy your nerves, vessels and ultimately your organs.

Maintaining a balanced diet and active life with some precautions and regularity will help prevent these consequences. In my case, I started out as a model patient, checking my blood sugar multiple times a day and adjusting my insulin doses to my food and exercise.

But after 10 years with the disease I took a "break" from the rigors of diabetes management and lived my life like a regular, high-performing 20-year-old, which meant eating when there was food available, traveling and jumping on every adventure in work or in my social life.

I wanted to show that not only was I a successful Swedish female doctor/Ph.D. in an American business setting, but that having diabetes made no impact at all on my career choices or performance.

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3. Create a support system. Surround yourself with people who love you, respect you and will stand up for you. It's not a bad thing if a partner, parent or physician tells a person with a chronic disease to slow down and to give them some tough love. If you set up goals with your caregivers, friend and family, you're more likely to succeed.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects every cell in your body and each moment of your life. While there's never a "break" from diabetes and no cure, we can live with it by learning as much as possible about the disease, protecting ourselves from its complications, creating a great team around us and always pushing ourselves to perform better as a patient as well as a person.

--Dr. Hehenberger

Readers -- Do you or anyone you know have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes? Have you struggled to control it? How much does it affect your daily life? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Dr. Karin Hehenberger is a health and wellness expert with more than 15 years of experience in the health care industry, ranging from executive positions with Johnson & Johnson, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Eyetech and, most recently, Coronado Biosciences to partnership roles at private and public investments firms.

Dr. Hehenberger trained as an M.D. and Ph.D. at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and did her post-doctoral fellowship at the Joslin Diabetes Center, Harvard Medical School. She is currently the founder and CEO of Lyfebulb and also has a role on the executive team at Immune Pharmaceuticals as chief strategy officer.

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