TAMPA, Fl– Confusion. Dizziness. Shakes. Hunger. Headaches and irritability. All of these are symptoms of low blood sugar. They can affect a college student’s concentration and lead to poor grades, as well as being a serious health risk.
Students managing their diabetes find it can be a journey of ups and downs, with high blood sugar being just as dangerous as low blood sugar. Every day can be a challenge depending on how they handle their meals, take their insulin and exercise. Always having to worry about if they’ve done everything right affects their lives on a larger scale.
Diabetes plays a role in the workplace as well. Bosses and co-workers might wonder if you’re healthy enough to do your job, what you’re doing with the syringes and why you have to have snacks during the day.
Elizabeth Sullivan is a graduate student at USF with Type I diabetes and she has dealt with the ups and downs of diabetes every day, but she has not let it define her life.
Sullivan joined the USF chapter of Students With Diabetes about two years ago because she wanted to get involved with the group. After graduating from Stetson, she came back to the Tampa Bay area and the founder of the organization, Nicole Johnson, asked her to run the Tampa Bay Students With Diabetes chapter. She acts as a coordinator for the chapter, planning events and reaching out to students with diabetes.
Sullivan knows what it’s like to live with diabetes and manage a school and work schedule. “Every day is a new challenge,” she said. “You never know what your blood sugar is gonna be like, you never know if it’s going to affect your ability to perform well in class or in tests. If you have low or high blood sugar right before a test, you memory goes right out the window.”
Even though diabetes research is ongoing, there is no prospect for a cure any time soon. New medications, therapies and strategies for dealing with diabetes show up regularly in the news every day however, leading to hope that a cure will be found soon.
Sullivan gets excited when she hears about new developments in diabetes research.
“One of the ones I’m most looking forward to is the artificial pancreas,” Sullivan said. “We brought in Dr. Ed Damiano, who is the one developing the bionic pancreas and he’s already gone through at least ten years of research for this and they’ve done clinical trials and gotten really amazing results.”
Diabetes affects millions of people in the U.S., and it seems the numbers are increasing. A report by the Centers For Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia states more than 29 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, which is more than the previous estimate of 26 million in 2010. As bad as that sounds, the report also says that one in four people may not realize they have it.
The National Diabetes Statistics Report 2014 also has statistics on people aged 20 years or older, prime college student age, with 1.7 million new diabetes cases as of 2012. Attending college, working and maintaining a social life is tough enough as it is, but students with diabetes face even more challenges in managing these activities.
According to Francesca Sgambato, administrative specialist at the USF Student Health Clinic, there is not currently a special program for diabetic students but the clinic is willing and able to help students who have or think they might have diabetes.
“We can offer to do any type of labwork or testing they might need,” Sgambato said. “The providers can provide them with medication, if they feel that they might benefit from seeing a nutritionist, we do have one in-house that we would be able to refer them to.”
Sgambato recommends that students who have diabetes or think they have symptoms should go to the USF Student Health Clinic and get their blood sugar levels checked. The staff can then suggest treatment.
Sullivan says the easiest thing to do for people unfamiliar with diabetes is simply talk to a student with diabetes about what it’s like.
“The one thing I would like people to know is I want them to ask,” Sullivan said. “I want them to ask me questions, ask why I do certain things, ask why I can’t do certain things. I think a lot of my friends who I’ve been talking to also agree that just by people asking it gives us a chance to talk with them and connect with other people in a way we might not been able to before.”