Where's that "teenager handbook" when you need it?
Being a teen comes with its own set of challenges. While it's a wonderful time of personal growth and discovery, it's also when adolescents are testing the waters of dating and driving, exposure to smoking, alcohol and drugs, and peer pressure to grow up too fast. Throw diabetes into the mix and you've got a cocktail of angst like no other. While teens with diabetes face the same choices as their peers, having diabetes complicates those choices.
It can be an especially stressful time for diabetic teens; stress makes diabetes worse, and diabetes makes everything more stressful. Teens who have religiously managed their disease for years may now become rebellious and refuse to comply. They may go through denial and act increasingly aggressively in reaction to the stress of puberty and diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association lists some common challenges:
Growing up. Teens deal with a lot of changes in their bodies as they mature. They have big physical and hormonal changes. Those same hormones that cause puberty and acne make good diabetes care tough. Your blood glucose may go up and down a lot more, causing unexplained highs and lows.
Dating and diabetes. Close friends and family probably understand diabetes, and are ready and willing to help you treat your hypoglycemia if needed. Meeting someone new can create another set of issues.
Sex and pregnancy. The risks of being sexually active are the same for teens that have diabetes as for those who don't. And they are big risks: AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy. Add to those, the risks for teens with diabetes, like hypoglycemia and special pregnancy concerns.
Alcohol, tobacco and drugs. These are bad news for a teen, but pose even more danger to people with diabetes.
Tips for Teens
Here are some keys for teens to manage diabetes:
First, make healthy food choices. Everyone knows it's important to eat a nutritious diet of fruits, vegetables and low-fat foods. But it's especially important on a diabetic management plan.
Eat the right amounts of foods. Don't eat too much; don't avoid meals. It's that simple.
Be active. Yes, exercise! Being active allows you to relax, maintain your weight, sleep better and have more energy.
Stay at a healthy weight. If you're overweight, you can make managing your diabetes more difficult. The same is true if you're underweight.
Take your medicine and check your blood glucose. Your doctor will explain what blood glucose level is right for you.
According to the ADA, teens who manage their diabetes can lower their risk for other health issues. The alternative is scary: high blood glucose can harm blood vessels, cause heart attacks and strokes. There's also the damage it can cause to major organs, blindness, kidney failure, loss of toes, feet and teeth.