Should you tell family about your diabetes?

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Diabetes has a profound impact on how you live your life. There are stresses unique to diabetes due to the daily treatment demands. These demands may not only affect you but also those close to you. Should you tell your family about your diabetes? Although it’s your choice with whom you share your personal health information, there are reasons why we recommend sharing a diagnosis of diabetes.

Mood changes  

When your blood glucose levels swing outside your target range, it can have a profound effect on your mood.

Low blood glucose, or hypoglycaemia, can lead to feelings of agitation, low mood, nervousness or confusion. High blood glucose levels may make you feel angry, nervous or sad. If those around you are aware of your diabetes diagnosis they are then alert to sudden or uncharacteristic mood changes. With this understanding they can then help you if you need assistance or support. It also helps them understand why their help may be rejected.

Illness or hypoglycaemia (‘hypo’) 

Prompt and appropriate treatment of your diabetes when you are ill or when you have hypoglycaemia could prevent the need for hospitalisation.

When you’re ill you may need help to put into action your sick day management plan. Your plan may require a change in your medication, taking regular food and fluids, more self-testing of glucose and/or ketones, and when to seek medical assistance. Having support to do this will ensure you feel confident in how you’re managing your diabetes while sick.

Hypoglycaemia, on the other hand, can usually be managed well by yourself but this may not always be the case. If you’re unable to self-treat a hypo, you may need to rely on others. This assistance is dependent on you telling those closest to you about your diabetes diagnosis. Sharing could be with family, friends or work colleagues. Alternatively, invest in a medical alert identification system. This could be as simple as wearing an identification medical alert symbol that first responders look for. It could also be a duress alarm that contacts others if you need help.

Medication 

Some diabetes medications have certain requirements if they’re to be most effective and used safely. This could mean that they are best taken at roughly the same time every day or taken with food to prevent causing other health problems or hypos. Some medications may need to be stored below 29C. Metformin, for instance, is recommended to be taken with a meal at about the same time every day. If others close to you know this, they may help to remind you to take it. Often people are very considerate of others if they understand the situation.

Inherited link 

For some, diabetes has a genetic link. This is why it’s important to inform family members of your diagnosis. Family members can then determine their risk of diabetes with their doctor. They can also take an online questionnaire to determine their risk of type 2 diabetes. Knowing about their increased risk of developing diabetes provides an opportunity for them to plan regular screening blood tests. Pathology tests are important, otherwise diabetes can be present without being detected. It also gives them the prompt and time to act on factors that can help reduce the risk of diabetes. This includes eating healthy food, being a healthy weight and doing daily physical activity for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity. There are community programs that may help them act on these factors.

Who you tell about your diagnosis is a personal choice. Explaining diabetes to people may help them understand how you are feeling and why you have a certain routine. If others know, they may also be able to help during times of need such as when you are sick or experiencing low blood glucose levels.

If family members know, you may have given them the chance to prevent or delay a diagnosis of diabetes.

By Amanda Callaghan, RN CDE

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