JDRFNewsIncreased exam stress could be putting health of students with type 1 diabetes at risk

Increased exam stress could be putting health of students with type 1 diabetes at risk

Posted on 24 May 2019

Reforms to GCSEs and A-Levels which have come into force in England could be creating more difficulties for students with type 1 diabetes, JDRF has found.

Hormones released because of stress make it harder for injected insulin to work properly, and while exams have always been a cause of stress, there is now no longer any coursework to take away some of the pressure.

Karen Addington, Chief Executive of JDRF in the UK, said: “These exam reforms could have a disproportionate impact on students with long-term health conditions. Type 1 diabetes makes exams harder – and exams can make managing health with type 1 diabetes harder.”

JDRF has spoken to families about the impact of exam stress on the health of students with the condition.

Iona McKenzie, 16, has had type 1 diabetes since she was six. Her mother Caroline told JDRF how big an impact exams are having on her daughter’s health: “For the last few weeks Iona has been going to bed with stable blood glucose levels but waking up very high during the night, due to having nightmares about the exams.

“Exams are just not geared to students with additional needs, when you need space to sort yourself out. She has three exams on some days, and in between she is expected to go to a classroom for more revision.

“For someone with type 1 diabetes it is detrimental to have more than one exam a day.  It is really important to get out and walk in between the exams, as being sedentary really doesn’t help with management of the condition. For Iona, the insulin doesn’t work as well if she is sitting down a lot, as her muscles aren’t being used enough to absorb the insulin.”

“On the first day of her exams she was up in the night with a hypo which she needed to treat. She got herself stable but when she got in the car, her levels jumped because she was worrying about the exam. This caused her to start panicking about her levels staying too high during the exam, meaning she would have fuzzy vision, brain fog and feel sick.

“She knows that it will take a while for her levels to come down, but doesn’t think she has enough time. So she not only has to think about how she will get through the exams but also how she will manage her blood glucose levels during the exams –  as well as trying to fit in exercise and get a better nights’ sleep.

“It all requires an extra level of concentration – energy that could be going into the exam has to be spent on managing the condition during the exams. “

Gem Pettitt is a university student who has already been through A-Level exams but tells JDRF about the impact type 1 diabetes had on her performance: “I am at university now and did get the grades I needed in the end, but they were all one grade lower than my predicted grades and I had to struggle my way through the exam period with high blood glucose levels day in, day out.

“Even though you are entitled to take regular breaks during the exams to manage blood glucose levels by doing checks, administering insulin if you are too high, or eating something if you are too low – this doesn’t take away the fact that you will be feeling unwell in the exam – hardly ideal when your future chances depend on this .”


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