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It’s no joke – getting the facts straight on type 1 diabetes

JDRF’s Senior Communications Officer Kate Gerrard discuses the impact of myths, misconceptions and jokes about diabetes on those living with type 1.

Man injecting insulin into his stomach area

“That’s diabetes on a plate.”

“I think I’ve just developed diabetes.”

I won’t name names, but these two statements were broadcast on national prime time TV. As a type 1 diabetes charity, our supporters have told us how upsetting and frustrating comments like these are – and we’re sure it’s the same for people with type 2.

The myths and misconceptions that underlie these jokes have a real impact on those living type 1.

Our recent survey found that 35% of UK adults didn’t know the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and, as the jokes above indicate, they are often lumped together. We also found that 35% of adults didn’t know that type 1 diabetes is a life-threatening condition and a fifth believed type 1 can be put into remission.

Getting the facts straight

Approximately 400,000 people live with type 1 in the UK. It is an autoimmune condition, caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Someone with type 1 diabetes has to inject insulin and monitor their blood glucose levels several times a day to stay healthy – and stay alive. Blood glucose levels dropping too low can result in unconsciousness, coma and even death. Blood glucose levels becoming too high can cause damage to blood vessels, nerves and organs, and cause a buildup of acid in the blood which eventually causes the body to poison itself.

This is what people with type 1 contend with every day, and there is no let up in trying to get this balance right.

Searching for cures

So what is the impact of misconceptions about type 1? Myths and jokes diminish the reality of intensive daily type 1 diabetes management and the urgent need to find a cure.

At JDRF, the leading global organisation funding type 1 diabetes research – where many of us live with type 1 or, like myself, are closely connected with someone who does – our research is making headway. JDRF-funded research has found an immunotherapy that can delay the onset of type 1 in people at high risk of developing the condition by three years, which may soon become the first licensed immunotherapy for type 1.

Our research is also finding ways to create new insulin-producing beta cells in the lab. If these new cells can be both implanted and protected from further immune attack, we could be looking at a functional cure, freeing people with type 1 from the daily burden of type 1 diabetes management.

We’re moving closer to that moment, but until then we need to approach type 1 diabetes research with urgency and the people dealing with it with compassion and support, not jokes.

This feature also appears on the Health Awareness website.

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