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Health & Medical

Insulin?

Many college-bound freshmen have the same questions about their new roommate: Will she be messy, drink a lot, have a weird boyfriend? Caroline McEnery, who heads to Boston College this month, has a few extra concerns, such as: Will her roommate mind bunking with someone with diabetes? "Some people are uncomfortable with seeing someone stick their finger," McEnery says. She has type 1 diabetes - a condition in which her pancreas does not make enough insulin, a hormone that helps the body use glucose for energy. She pricks her finger numerous times a day to obtain a drop of blood to test her blood sugar. The 18-year-old from Fairfield, Conn., manages her condition on her own and has not allowed diabetes to stop her from achieving her goals, she says, including playing on her high school volleyball team, skiing every winter, traveling to Ireland or going away to college to study nursing. But she says being a teenager with type 1 diabetes has had its challenges, such as meeting new people and explaining her condition. "Even though it is a part of me, I don't want diabetes to define me, and I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable," says McEnery. Teenagers with type 1 diabetes have unique needs because they are going through hormonal, emotional and social changes that can have a huge influence on their blood sugar, says Steven Willi, director of the Diabetes Center for Children at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. They are also making more of their own food decisions and eating more because they are growing, so they may need to check their blood sugar more often than they did as a child, Willi says. According to the American Diabetes Association, one out of every 300 children have type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 10 percent of all diabetes cases, and about 1.4 million people in the USA have the disease. Willi says that if a young person with type 1 diabetes stays well controlled - checks blood sugar regularly, tracks carbohydrates and takes the right amount of insulin to help metabolize the glucose in carb-rich foods - then that person can do anything he or she wants to do. The biggest problems for a teen are keeping blood sugar from dipping too low or climbing too high, says Alexandra Salazar, a registered dietitian who specializes in pediatric diabetes at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) causes dizziness and energy loss. Less commonly, a person can pass out from extremely low blood sugar, go into seizures or a coma, or die. "With teens, hypoglycemia can happen if you exercise too much without eating, if you skip a meal, or at night while sleeping," Salazar says.

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