When faced with a medical condition you know nothing about, people will often make their own assumptions. One can hardly blame them, especially if their education and/or upbringing has provided some “seeded” information that they believe to be true. This is one of the reasons why I find it extremely interesting when someone decides to get past the fear voicing those questions, especially to someone living with the condition.
Enter the big question of the week: “What will happen to you if you don’t have insulin?”
The short answer is that I’ll die. There you go. Thanks for reading. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the short of it. The answer not so much involves the “if” I’ll die so much as it involves what I’ll die from. The bottom line is that before the arrival of insulin, people with Diabetes just didn’t survive. Simple as that. Once diagnosed, they slipped into a coma and died.
Just to be clear, I’m referring strictly to Type-1 Diabetes. For people with Type-2, whether using insulin therapy or not, their life expectancy can extend as long as years, depending on the specifics of their condition, diet, age, exercise and all that fun stuff. But for the average Type-1 Diabetic that can recognize early symptoms and takes precautions, the average life expectancy without insulin is believed to be about 7 to 10 days at most. Nice, eh?
“But why don’t you just diet and restrict yourself from carbohydrates, and exercise more when your blood sugar rises?” Very good question, anonymous person! Here’s the answer…
According to an article posted on Healthline.com, without insulin, your body can’t use glucose as fuel and begins to break down fatty tissue as a replacement, which causes those fats to turn into acids called ketones. These ketones build up in the bloodstream and eventually get expelled through one’s urine. However, when these ketones accumulate in the bloodstream, the blood starts to become acidic. This causes a condition called Diabetic Ketoacidosis.
Ketoacidosis is usually the condition that winds up killing the patient, but some of the symptoms may get to the patient first. These symptoms can include dehydration, shock and slipping into a comatose state. Here’s the HealthLine article, if you want more details: https://www.healthline.com/diabetesmine/ask-dmine-lifespan-sans-insulin#How-did-people-with-type-1-diabetes-survive-historically?
So no, the easy answer is that I can’t simply stop eating carbs and exercise more if my blood sugars rises to dangerous levels. The unfortunate reality is that this would be like sticking a piece of duct tape to stop a crack on the Hoover dam! Eventually, DKA would take over and my blood would turn acidic, effectively killing me despite my best efforts. This is why good blood sugar control and proper insulin therapy is so necessary.
The best way to maintain your health and stay alive, other than proper insulin therapy, is to stay hydrated and recognize the symptoms of DKA before they hit. Your body will cramp and ache everywhere, you’ll fall into the “endless diabetes cycle” of drink, pee, repeat and you’ll likely have confusion and bad breath. This is why it’s important to check for elevated ketone levels if you’ve suffered extreme high blood sugar, as the ketone process may have begun even if you’ve corrected your high with insulin.
Just one more aspect of Type-1 Diabetes that we have to worry about! But this is an easy one to prevent and manage, so long as you adhere to your insulin therapy, stay hydrated and watch your blood sugar levels carefully. Diabetes is already believed to shorten a person’s life expectancy; no need to give it any further opportunities. ☯