Healthcare professionals are urging young women with type 1 diabetes to understand the health risks they could face by not looking after themselves with good self-management for the condition.
It has been reported that up to a third of young women with type 1 diabetes could have a condition known as diabulimia.
Diabulimia is an eating disorder that can affect people with diabetes who are insulin dependent, mostly people with type 1 diabetes, when they miss their regular insulin injections in order to lose weight.
Ahead of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, from 27th February, doctors have warned that young people with type 1 diabetes who realise the potential weight loss possible by skipping insulin, do not understand how much they are damaging their bodies by doing so.
Diabulimia can increase the risk of diabetes-related health complications including heart disease, nerve and kidney damage and amputation, and problems with eyesight.
Professor Janet Treasure OBE, PhD FRCP FRCPsych, Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London said: “People with diabetes are more at risk of developing an eating disorder. As 15-20% of all young women have an eating disorder and the risk is twice as high in people with type 1 diabetes this means that up to a third of young women with diabetes develop eating disorders. In eating disorders the earlier the problem is recognised and dealt with effectively, the better the overall outcome. However, the shame and stigma mean that it can be a secret problem and stops people seeking help.”
The signs of diabulimia could include regular changes in weight, awkwardness over questions about diabetes control, avoiding appointments with healthcare professionals, having a high HbA1c (blood sugar test) result, being very thirsty, needing to urinate frequently and having blurred vision.
The side effects of manipulating the amount of insulin taken and removing it from the body in people who are insulin dependent can be serious and dangerous, both in the short term and the long term. Blood sugar levels can increase rapidly to unhealthy levels, causing simple fatigue, or, more dangerously, wearing of the muscle tissue.
It is not uncommon for teenagers with diabulimia to develop these serious diabetes-related complications by the time they are in their twenties.
Stacey Williams, 24, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1997 and became addicted to skipping her insulin when she realised doing so provided an easy way to lose weight. Stacey had always felt self-conscious about her weight, and when she was 17 she suffered from depression because of bullying at school and having to cope with diabetes. Stacey started missing her insulin injections and her weight dropped from around 12 stone to just over 9 stone.
At the age of 21, Stacey became even more obsessed with skipping her insulin injections and would skip three instead of one. As a result, she started experiencing diabetes-related complications such as hair loss, retinopathy and muscle problems. In August 2015, she was diagnosed as suffering from diabulimia. While Stacey now has the problem under control, she still battles with the effects of the condition and was recently told she had the onset of cataracts and would have to have them removed.
Find out more about Eating Disorders Awareness Week
Read the DRWF leaflet A healthy diet and diabetes