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How to Help When a Friend has Diabetes


If 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.

Additionally, 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 much alcohol.

Here 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, etc.

        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
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