Teenagers and Diabetes Control

Spend a few minutes every 2-3 days looking through your recent test numbers
Spend a few minutes every 2-3 days looking through your recent test numbers

Getting blood glucose levels under control takes work and, as a teen, it seems to be even harder. Only 1 in 7 teenagers manage to get their long term blood sugar control within the target range (ie an HbA1c value below 7.5%).

Generally speaking, the more in control of your diabetes you are, the more in control of life you'll feel.

How can I get better control?

The further we get into our teenage years, the more we want to push diabetes under the carpet. We don't want diabetes control our lives and that can mean we spend less time looking after our levels.

On one hand, we don't want diabetes to take over our lives but, and it's quite a big but, we don't want to be going through each week feeling tired and zombie-like because our levels can't seem to behave themselves.

So what can we do?

Get the basics right

Take a step back and ask yourself how you're doing?

  • Are you testing before each meal and before bed?
  • Do you spend a few minutes every 2 or 3 days looking through your recent test numbers?
  • Are you having your background insulin at the same time each day – even on weekends?
  • Are you relying on comfort foods too often?

Diabetes control plan

If you're not doing one or more of the above, spend a week trying to correct one of these things.

It may take a couple of weeks but stick to it. Set aside a bit of time each week, on a day or evening that best suits you, to give yourself a quick progress report.

  • What's going well?
  • What could be a bit better?
  • What steps can I realistically take to help improve one or two aspects of my diabetes control?

Get into a routine

Getting into a routine is a really important part of getting those stubborn sugar levels under control. If every day is totally different it's hard to make sense of the numbers.

There are a lot of things that affect our levels, the time between meals and injections, whether we exercised, the type or size of meals we eat.

Getting into a more fixed routine can help to simplify things and allow us to make sense of the numbers.

The following things can help:

  • Try to have meals at the same time of day wherever possible
  • Don't miss out on meals
  • Take your background insulin at the same each day (even on weekends)

It can also help to set yourself a carbohydrate target for different meals of the day so you have a set amount of carbs each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whilst it might take away some flexibility, it'll make it easier to spot trends in your numbers.

If say you notice your before bed numbers are always on the low side, you'll be able to take this into account in your insulin doses. It'll also help your diabetes team out and they'll be able to help you with making dose adjustments.

Do you need to be flexible?

If flexibility is important to you but leaves you struggling to get good control, you may wish to request to go onto an insulin pump.

Availability to insulin pumps on the NHS may involve being put onto a waiting list but a lot of teenagers feel the wait is well worth it. Pumpers (people who use insulin pumps) often get very attached to their pumps (bad pun - sorry) and have a habit of naming their insulin pumps, which goes to show how appreciated the pumps are. By comparison, we've yet to hear of anyone that has named their injection pen!

Slowing down the blood sugar roller coaster

Many of us are told to base meals around starchy carbohydrates. As a result we need to take quite high doses of insulin.

What this means is that blood sugar often goes up very quickly for the first hour or so after eating and then comes down very quickly.

The other side of taking a high dose is that it means that it leaves less room for error in the insulin we take.

If we inject 20 units of insulin for a meal but are out by 10%, this means we get it wrong by 2 units of insulin, which can mean ending up with either a high blood sugar or a very low blood sugar.

If we have a meal instead that requires half the amount of insulin, any errors we make in our insulin dose should on average be halved as well, meaning our sugar levels get close to what the should be. All of a sudden, the diabetes rollercoaster isn't quite so severe.

Eating to feel happy

When you think about eating to feel happy it probably involves foods like fish and chips, crisps and cakes. The trouble is that these foods are rubbish for our levels, which makes us feel uncomfortable and can mess up our ability to think straight to some extent.

Comfort foods may make us feel better for a few minutes but it's followed by a few hours of feeling rubbish.

One of the hardest things is if the wrong foods always seem to be around you. Out of sight helps to keep things out of mind. You may need to ask your family, and perhaps your friends too, to give you a hand by not tempting you with things that are going to hit your levels badly.

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