Going to College, Having Diabetes: Preparing for the Unpredictable
If you're going away to college and you have diabetes, planning ahead is the best way to make sure you're prepared to continue taking good care of yourself even with the changes you'll be experiencing. Changes in lifestyle can mean changes in blood sugar, and it's hard to know exactly how you personally will be affected. But if you plan well, and you're aware that you'll need to be monitoring yourself closely, you'll be in a good position to work out any kinks that could possibly happen along the way.
Before you leave for school, make an appointment with the doctor who helps you manage your diabetes. Your doctor can give you helpful ideas that you might not think of on your own.
Make sure your campus heath center has a copy of your medical records.
Once you get to school, it's a good idea to go the health center to set up an appointment to introduce yourself. It's always helpful if the staff there knows you, in case you'll be needing them down the road.
Find out what your insurance will cover now that you're away from home. Some policies change, others don't.
Remember that in addition to your regular diabetes supplies, such as a blood glucose meter, insulin pump or syringes, monitoring strips, etc., you'll also need the things that are easy to find when you live at home, but that might not be so easy to find in your dorm. These include quick sources of glucose (sugar), like small juice containers, raisins, crackers or whatever you like to use when your blood sugar gets low; urine ketone test strips; list of important phone numbers if you get sick, etc.
Take more supplies than you normally would expect to use, in case you lose something. It's not as easy to replace them, especially if you don't have a car.
A college schedule is usually completely different from a high school schedule. You might have an early class three times a week, but no morning classes twice a week, for example. Your insulin schedule will need to change, according to the changes in your lifestyle now. You may need to start using a long-acting insulin with short-acting insulin. This could be a good time to consider getting an insulin pump, if you don't already have one. Be sure to talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of the pump and preparing yourself to adjust to a new schedule.
It's a good idea for your roommate at school to know you have diabetes. You can tell your roommate in a letter before school starts, or you can wait until you meet face to face. It's up to you. Your roommate really should know the signs of low blood sugar (confusion, irritability, feeling shaky, staring into space) and what to do if you show those signs.
Coaches should also know you have diabetes, in case anything unexpected happens while you're playing or practicing.
Find out whether the dining hall posts nutrition information for all its meals. Many schools do this. If yours doesn't, ask whether they'd consider starting it.
The reality is that alcohol is often easy to come by at college, even though the legal drinking age is 21. Of course, the best choice is to avoid drinking alcohol. It contains carbohydrates, and it can affect your blood sugar level. If you drink too much alcohol, your judgment can be affected, so you may neglect to monitor your blood sugar. And you may not recognize danger signals of low blood sugar if you're drinking too much.
If you find that you do drink alcohol even though you know you shouldn't, be sure not to drink on an empty stomach. Limit your drinking to one or two drinks per day. Make sure that you drink with someone who can recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar. And if you've been having trouble getting your diabetes under control, the best choice is not to drink at all.
If it starts to feel like diabetes is controlling you instead of you controlling your diabetes, be sure to get help. Talk with someone at your health center. Or talk to your parents or your doctor from home. If you get off track in the beginning, don't get too discouraged. Instead, take the steps you need to take to get yourself back in control.
American Diabetes Association; D. Mellinger, "Preparing Students with Diabetes for Life at College," Diabetes Care, September 2003.