How to Help When a Friend has Diabetes
you have a friend or co-worker who has diabetes, your help and support may
be needed in different ways. Diabetes is controllable in most cases, but that
doesn’t mean it’s an easy disease to have. It’s constant work—testing blood
sugar several times a day, taking pills or injecting insulin, sometimes wearing
a pager-sized pump that administers insulin, taking note of the calories,
carbohydrate and fat in each meal…it becomes very tedious and tiresome to
pretty much anybody who has it.
many people who have diabetes experience episodes of hypoglycemia, or low
blood sugar, from time to time. This is more common in people who have to
take insulin to control their disease. Low blood sugar can be caused by taking
too much insulin, exercising more than usual, missing meals or drinking too
are some things you can do to support a friend who has diabetes:
► Learn to recognize the signs of low blood
sugar. These include hunger, sweating, dizziness, headache, lightheadedness,
irritability, shakiness, clammy skin, loss of coordination, fast heart beat.
If hypoglycemia is addressed early, it usually corrects itself quickly. Glucose
tablets, fruit juice, low fat milk and regular (not diet) soda can bring the
blood sugar back to a safe level. If you notice the signs in a friend or co-worker,
it wouldn’t hurt to ask them if they’re okay, if they need to take a snack,
► In rare cases, hypoglycemia can become
so severe that it can cause coma or seizures. If this occurs, someone needs
to give the person with diabetes a shot of glucagon, which raises the blood
sugar quickly. If your friend has asked you to be available to administer
a glucagon injection, be sure that you understand all of the instructions
for doing this, including how and where to inject, how to check the blood
sugar and what snacks you should have on hand after your friend wakes up.
If your friend is in a coma and there’s nobody available to administer glucagon,
dial 9-1-1 right away.
► Be supportive, but make sure that support
doesn’t sound like criticism. If you see your friend eating a food that seems
like a bad choice, such as a scoop of ice cream, it’s probably best not to
comment about it at that time. The reality is that with diabetes, there are
no “forbidden foods.” People with diabetes are generally able to eat all kinds
of foods, as long as they take the carbohydrate content into account and adjust
their medication and food choices throughout the day.
► Read about diabetes so that you can talk
with your friend in a well-informed way. You could even ask your friend to
recommend a helpful book. You might be surprised at how touched your friend
will be that you take so much interest in his or her condition and that you
want to help.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders; University of Michigan Health System