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Diabetes Health Center

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Type 1 Diabetes: Are You as Smart as a 2nd Grader?

By Suzanne Verity
WebMD Feature

All you really need to know about type 1 diabetes Eric Hamblin likely learned in kindergarten. This 8-year-old was diagnosed at 18 months of age, and he already has enough smarts to teach first-year med students a thing or two about the disease.

“I just want to say one thing, and that’s you guys don’t know anything about diabetes,” the class clown told a capacity crowd at a University of New England Medical School seminar.

His line got the laughs he was after, but there’s truth behind it. Of an estimated 29 million Americans with diabetes, about 3 million have Eric's form of the disease. The smaller proportion of people with type 1 may be a big reason the condition so misunderstood.

Types 1 and 2 both cause high blood sugar and have insulin as the problem. Insulin is a hormone that unlocks cells to let in blood sugar, and that creates energy. 

You can’t live without insulin. If you have type 1 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough of it. If you have type 2, your body can’t use it properly. There are many other differences between the conditions.

Rumor Has It

Eric’s mom, Elizabeth Pratt Hamblin, knew the basics thanks to her job as a medical editor. “But I didn’t know what having type 1 really meant or how it was treated until he was diagnosed,” she says. 

What began as an overwhelmed mother’s quest to learn how to care for her son turned into a self-help book for others: 100 Questions & Answers About Your Child’s Type 1 Diabetes.

Pratt Hamblin covers many myths about type 1 diabetes in her book, including that it only affects children. That’s not true, although it doesn’t help that the condition used to be called “juvenile” or “juvenile-onset” diabetes.

About 18,000 kids a year are diagnosed with the disease, but it can happen at any age. About 5% of adults with diabetes have type 1. And you never outgrow it, no matter how old you are when you get diagnosed.

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