The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 13% of adults in the U.S. were diagnosed with diabetes in 2018. This amounts to roughly 34.1 million Americans age 18 or older. When left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious conditions and medical complications. The disease may cause blindness, damaged blood vessels, heart disease, and strokes.
No cure exists for diabetes. However, people with diabetes who are diagnosed early and monitored regularly can lead active, purposeful, and even long lives. Students managing diabetes in college often do so without parental guidance for the first time. This can be challenging and overwhelming.
Learning to deal with diabetes in college teaches students to make responsible health decisions. This guide provides resources and information to help students with diabetes make the most of their college experience.
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What Is Diabetes?
The CDC describes diabetes as a “chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how the body turns food into energy.” Non-insulin-dependent, or Type 2 diabetes, comprises about 90% of diabetes cases in the United States. Also called adult-onset diabetes, it often begins during adulthood. Individuals with Type 2 diabetes do not make enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
Insulin-dependent, or Type 1 diabetes, makes up the remaining 10% of cases. Also called juvenile-onset diabetes, Type 1 diabetes usually begins in childhood. For still largely unknown reasons, people with Type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin.
Diabetes symptoms vary between individuals. Symptoms may include blurry vision, numbness or tingling of hands or feet, frequent night urination, fatigue, and slow-healing sores. Type 1 diabetes can induce more severe symptoms, including nausea and stomach pains.
According to the CDC, 21.4% of American adults with diabetes (7.3 million) are unaware of their condition at the outset. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to nerve or kidney damage, hearing impairment, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Most people with Type 1 diabetes use insulin injections or pumps to manage the condition. They also monitor their carbohydrate intake closely and check their blood sugar regularly. Treatment options for Type 2 diabetes often involve lifestyle changes such as losing weight and exercising regularly.
Some doctors prescribe diabetes medication to help control blood sugar levels and regulate insulin production. Individuals with Type 2 diabetes must check their blood sugar regularly.
Rights and Accommodations for Students With Diabetes
When diabetes and college students go together, learners do not have to neglect their health. The resources below can make managing diabetes in college less stressful.
Q. What Rights Do Students With Diabetes Have on Campus?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) classifies diabetes as a disability. The classification and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects the rights of students with diabetes and other disabilities.
Colleges and universities must make their programs and college experience equally accessible to all students. However, limits exist. Schools are only required to offer accommodations and modifications that do not fundamentally alter a program’s nature. Modifications must also not cause undue administrative or financial burden.
Q. What On-Campus Accommodations Are Available to Students With Diabetes?
Under the ADA, colleges and universities receiving any type of federal aid must provide students with diabetes with reasonable accommodations. For example, students with diabetes may need a snack or a fruit drink during an exam or in class to prevent their blood sugar level from dipping. Some schools allow students with diabetes to reschedule exams or make up for missed coursework during a diabetes-related medical emergency.
Q. How Can Students Request Accommodations on Campus?
Students with diabetes must contact their school’s student services department prior to the start of the school year. This step is especially important for first-year students. However, sophomores and upper-class enrollees should also ensure their accommodation request is in place at the beginning of each academic year. The accommodations depend on learners’ specific medical needs and the school’s resources.
Q. Do You Have To Tell a Potential Employer That You Have Diabetes?
No. The law protects jobseekers with diabetes or other disabilities from needing to share their medical condition to potential employers. However, employees can only sue for discrimination if they divulged their condition to their employer. Even if an employee with diabetes shares their medical condition, the company must still comply with privacy laws that prevent them from making this information available to unauthorized personnel.
Q. What Accommodations Can Students Request at Work?
Students with diabetes who must complete an internship should share their medical condition with their preceptors. Although they are not legally required to do so, divulging this information can be helpful. Most internship sites grant reasonable accommodations to interns who request them. The accommodation type depends on several factors. These may include the workplace setting, intern duties, and internship site resources.
Q. What Should Students Do if They Experience Discrimination at School or Work?
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) provides information and resources for students managing diabetes in college. The ADA also provides resources for professionals coping with the disease in the workplace. Individuals with diabetes who have been discriminated against in school or the workplace because of their condition can seek ADA assistance. The organization may provide legal and arbitration services.
Campus Life for Students With Diabetes
College students with diabetes can take advantage of the same educational and extracurricular opportunities as their peers without the disease. Managing diabetes in college requires forward-planning and consistency. Vigilance is necessary when living with diabetes. See below for useful tips on managing diabetes in college and in the workplace.
Nutrient-dense foods with high levels of fiber, healthy fats, and protein help stabilize blood sugar. Ideal snacks include almonds, sliced apples with peanut butter, beef sticks, cottage cheese, and roasted chickpeas.
Glucose Tablets or Gel
A glucose tablet quickly raises dangerously low blood sugar levels. Most long-time diabetics carry at least one glucose tablet or gel with them.
Glucose Meter and Supplies
Well-stocked pharmacies carry at least one brand of glucose meter and supplies. Students can buy these over the counter. Portable versions are typically best for active college students.
Ample Medication and Supplies
Doctors may prescribe multiple medications for diabetics. Individuals can regulate insulin levels in many other ways depending on their lifestyle and activity level.
A high ketone level may indicate an insufficient level of insulin in the body. Diabetics must monitor ketone levels to prevent the onset of diabetic ketoacidosis, which can lead to coma or death.
Working closely with insulin, the hormone glucagon helps control blood sugar levels. Glucagon helps prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level), while insulin helps prevent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar level).
Important Phone Numbers
Diabetics learn to recognize symptoms of distress and know when to contact professionals for immediate assistance. Students should always keep important phone numbers current and readily accessible.
Most students with diabetes bring their own devices and supplies for monitoring their condition. However, college health centers and clinics provide various services and supplies for students with diabetes. These clinics may provide diabetic testing strips, blood lancets, and glucose tablets.
College student groups provide social, academic, mental, psychological, and emotional support. Students with diabetes can join college groups to meet others with their condition. These groups can help students manage diabetes and give them greater access to information and resources. See below for a small sample of college groups for students with diabetes.
College Diabetes Network
CDN chapters exist at several colleges across the United States. Members participate in various regional activities, including volunteering, fundraising, and information drives.
Diabetes Support Network
The group's website shares multiple resources that can help people of all ages with diabetes manage their condition. Visitors can explore diabetes-friendly recipes, virtual activities, and news about the latest technology in managing diabetes.
The resources below highlight funding opportunities, advocacy programs, and volunteer options for individuals living with diabetes.
American Diabetes Association
The ADA serves as the main advocacy group for people living with diabetes. The group's website includes the latest research, healthy living tips, volunteer and fundraising activities, and local and national resources.
The CDC site features various diabetes publications and research. Visitors can also explore the latest CDC initiatives and programs at regional and national levels.
The Diabetes Council
Maintained by a team of experts in diabetes treatment and research, the council publishes articles on the latest medications, helpful products, and educational programs. The group also hosts interactive webinars and provides access to free diabetic products.
Joslin Diabetes Center
This Boston, Masscusetts-based organization conducts cutting-edge diabetes research to help improve the lives of people with the disease. The center shares much of its findings online.
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