When your blood sugar levels are especially hard to control, you may have a condition called brittle diabetes. This condition can affect people with type 1 diabetes, and while rare, is more common for women in their 20s and 30s. Brittle diabetes is typically characterized by frequent and severe swings in blood sugar levels that can’t be explained.
Some experts question the existence of brittle diabetes because they say everyone with diabetes has variations in blood sugar levels at some point. But ongoing fluctuations in your blood sugar levels can lead to severe hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) —and that’s something you want to avoid.
What are the symptoms of brittle diabetes?
Symptoms of this condition vary depending on whether your blood sugar is too high or too low. Generally, you may experience:
- blurred vision
Both high and low blood sugar levels can also result in unpleasant mood changes.
What causes brittle diabetes?
Some factors that can contribute to the onset of brittle diabetes include:
- emotional stress
- not taking your medication properly
- not testing your glucose levels frequently enough
- eating disorders
- hormone imbalance
- celiac disease
- gastroparesis (a disorder that slows or stops the movement of food from your stomach to your small intestine)
- abnormal insulin absorption
- malabsorption (when your small intestine can’t absorb nutrients from food)
- drug or alcohol use
What is the treatment for brittle diabetes?
Fortunately, new technologies and treatment options for diabetes are making it easier for people to control their blood sugar levels. With the advent of tools like continuous blood glucose monitors and insulin pumps healthcare providers are seeing fewer and fewer cases of brittle diabetes.
In addition to properly taking your diabetes medication and regularly monitoring blood sugar levels, it’s important to identify the causes of these blood sugar fluctuations so you can address those issues head on. If it’s psychological, mental health counselling or medication may be needed. Eating smaller meals or avoiding certain foods can help improve gastroparesis. Or by properly diagnosing and controlling celiac disease, you can minimize swings in blood sugar.
In severe cases, some researchers are looking into implanting insulin-producing islet cells into people with brittle diabetes to control blood sugar levels, but this is still considered experimental treatment at this point.
Talk to your healthcare provider to address any underlying issues that could be contributing to your blood sugars swings and develop a plan to smooth out the ups and downs. With finely tuned treatment, most people with type 1 diabetes can reduce wild fluctuations in their blood sugar levels and rid themselves of brittle diabetes.
How can I prevent this condition?
Keep in mind that only three in every 1,000 people taking insulin for diabetes will get brittle diabetes. That said, adhering to your medication regimen, getting plenty of exercise to control blood sugar, and following a diabetes diet will help improve your chances of not being among those three. Managing stress is another key way to avoid sending your blood sugar levels into a tailspin too.
Taking all of these things into account will help you manage your diabetes with fewer ups and downs.