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From Glenwood Springs, Colorado, USA:

I have this friend who is in his early 20s and just found out he has diabetes a couple of months ago. He has been to three different doctors and they all say he could die before the age of 30. He hardly sleeps because he has to keep monitoring his blood level or something like that and also so he doesn't go into a diabetic coma. Can you really die at the age of 30? What kind of diabetes do you think he has? Is diabetes terminal in young adults? Is there anything he can do to live better with diabetes? What do you say to someone with this disease?


You sound like a very concerned friend, and I am glad you are asking for help. I am surprised that three different doctors said to your friend that he could die before the age of 30. Diabetes is a very serious disease, but there are several different treatment options available to help individuals with diabetes live a long and healthy life. However, without the proper education and medical care, your friend may not know how to manage his diabetes effectively. That is why it is important that your friend find a health care team that is knowledgeable about diabetes. It also might be helpful for your friend to ask his diabetes health care team if they can make a referral to a counselor that is knowledgeable about diabetes (clinical psychologist or social worker) also to discuss how your friend is coping with this diagnosis and to asses for depression. Individuals with diabetes are at a two to three times higher risk of being depressed than individuals without diabetes.

I am also wondering if your friend heard these doctors correctly? It might be helpful if someone could go with your friend to his next medical appointment to make sure that he is asking the right questions and that he hearing his doctors correctly. Sometimes, when you are so overwhelmed with a new diagnosis of diabetes, it is hard to remember everything that the medical team says. If your friend is willing to meet with someone else, there is a great diabetes clinic in Colorado called the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. They have a Young Adult Clinic so I wonder if your friend would be willing to go there for an appointment. If he is too old for the Barbara Davis Center, he should be able to ask them if they have another recommendation about where he could go for care.


Additional comments from Dr. Jim Lane:

I do not have enough information to determine what type of diabetes he has. However, I am not sure all the information you were provided is in the correct context. Whether a person is diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, there are treatments for the condition. It is a chronic disease with complications that develop over a number of years. The complications are related to duration of disease, level of glucose control, and genetic predisposition. The only one of these that people can control is the level of glucose control. Most people who are diagnosed with diabetes are given instructions about lifestyle (diet, exercise, choices) and some form of medical treatment, insulin or pills. You may have heard your friend tell you that if he did not address his diabetes, this could kill him. That sounds more plausible. The problem is that the diabetes is not forgiving. If your friend does not come to grips with his diabetes, there can be a more aggressive course for those with poorer control. I would suggest that he find a physician who also works with a diabetes education team and learn more about diabetes, its treatment, and ways to live with this chronic problem. Finally, I feel that people who have been diagnosed with diabetes need some understanding for what they are going through. However, I also think that they need to be empowered to care for their disease and be active members of society and have the expectation that they can do the things that other people do. Support is helpful. Pity is not.


Original posting 27 Jul 2006
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