Diabetes type 1

Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in hospital

Most of the young people we talked to spent some time in hospital while the diagnosis was being confirmed and their blood glucose levels stabilised. The normal glucose level in the blood, before meals, ranges between 4 - 7 mmol/L* but several of the young people we talked to were admitted into hospital with very high levels above 20 mmol/L. The length of time spent in hospital varied from a few days to a couple of weeks.

Many young people attended an A&E department as soon as their diabetes was diagnosed and were admitted to either a children's or an adult ward. Most of the young people we talked to said that their hospital stay was fine, that everybody had been really helpful and supportive and explained things to them clearly. Young people think that easy-to-understand explanations are really important at this stage. They remembered having to have lots of blood tests to find out their blood glucose levels before being given any insulin.
Being put on an adult diabetes ward

Sometimes, diabetes can lead to complications, and some young people were upset by seeing people with complications of diabetes having to have surgical treatment - one 18 year old woman recently diagnosed told us she would have preferred to be treated on a young people's ward.

Communication with doctors and nurses

Most young people thought that the nurses were great and that they did their best to make staying in hospital a positive experience. Some remember that hospital nurses started the teaching process of managing diabetes such as showing them how to do injections and finger pricking. Many praised nurses for their support, friendliness and patience, but a few said they had found it difficult to get nurses to communicate with them and didn't like having to ask questions to find things out. Several people felt that nurses on different shifts didn't always communicate that well with each other. Some found doctors gave good support and explained things well, but others didn't appreciate being ignored or overlooked while doctors talked to their parents. (See also 'What makes a good consultation with the care team'.)

Specialist diabetes nurses

Lots of people told us that they were introduced to their diabetes specialist nurse in hospital and started the process of learning to manage diabetes with them. They described how one specific specialist nurse stayed with them and continued to visit them at home. Specialist nurses showed them and/or their parents how to do insulin injections and helped build up their confidence. Those old enough to remember say that they first practiced on an orange and some were allowed to inject a nurse, a doctor or one of their parents. 

Learning to cope with needles

In hospital they were also taught about doing blood glucose tests (finger pricking). A few 'hated' needles and hated the thought of having to inject or do glucose tests everyday for the rest of their lives. Many found the thought of injecting a bit scary. Others say that they just accepted the fact that they would have to inject and do 'finger pricking'. Some were amazed and relieved to find out how quickly their symptoms disappeared after they started injecting insulin. (See also 'Insulin' doing injections everyday'.)

Young people told us that they left hospital with 'a bag full of medicines' and a 'mountain' of advice and information about diet, insulin, glucose meters, what do to in case of hypos and highs. (See also 'What makes a good consultation with the care team'; 'Information about diabetes' and 'Children, transition and young adult clinics'.)

Young people said that life with diabetes is a gradual learning experience and that the key is to learn what works and what doesn't work for you.

*NICE 2016

Last reviewed December 2017.

Last updated December 2017.


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