Family History and Diabetes: We've Come a Long Way, Baby

Last updated: September 2022

I remember talking to my mom in the 70s about diabetes in our family. She learned about diabetes from one of her 18 older siblings. Her older sister (who was much older than my mom) had symptoms of numbness in her limbs and tingling in her feet but never gave it a second thought. My Aunt thought this was normal and dismissed those pretty severe symptoms.

My Aunt experienced serious diabetes related symptoms

When my Aunt was 25 years old, she was busy and unaware of diseases like type 2 diabetes, so her life went on as usual. It wasn't until a couple of years passed that she realized something was wrong. One evening she watched television with her child on her lap and had a seizure. When she came to her senses, her baby was crying and had fallen off of her lap. Luckily, there was a carpet to protect the baby from serious injury.

My uncle, who was in the other room, asked her what had happened, but all she could remember was this sharp pain on the right side of the chest. My Aunt thought it was a one-time occurrence that wouldn't happen again. It did happen again, so she went to see a doctor. He suggested a blood sugar test that came back normal.

They returned home after getting more information from their family doctor. 7 months had passed, and she had forgotten about the whole thing. Everything was fine.

Discovering high blood sugars after another seizure

But, near the end of the 7th month, she had another seizure. She was taken back to the hospital, where the doctor confirmed that her blood sugar level was high, and she was put on medication.

Feeling the burden of type 2 diabetes stigma

My Aunt had to stop breastfeeding early due to medication, which made her feel inadequate as a mother. At that moment, she felt terrible, as if it was her fault that she had developed type 2 diabetes because of her poor eating habits, which contributed to her depression.

Changing medication dosage

My Aunt was instructed to take 2 types of insulin, regular and longer-acting, and had to buy syringes to test her urine. Testing was done 1 to 4 times a day, plus insulin 1 or 2 times a day. Her doctor changed her dosage several times.

There was no talk about counting carbohydrates back in the 1970s, either. Doctors didn't realize that this was an essential aspect of controlling diabetes. They did tell you to watch what you consumed, but my Aunt still ate what they wanted. This was not helpful.

Later on, my mom was diagnosed with diabetes

When my mom was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1976, the doctors performed many tests. There was the 2-drop method (2 drops of urine to ten drops of water) and the 5-drop method (5 drops of urine to ten drops of water).

The color chart for the 2-drop method went up to 5 percent (amount of sugar in urine), and the 5-drop method only measured up to 2 percent. Can you imagine going through this daily?

Helping my mom with insulin shots

We don't know if my mother's numbers ever dropped. I remember the doctors had me practice giving shots on an orange so I could give her medication.

A difficult family history

A few weeks later, my mom died. Her blood sugar went up to 1,000, and she went into a diabetic coma.

In closing, I just want to say that I have quite a family history of type 2 diabetes. My grandmother, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins are all gone. I was diagnosed 20 years ago at the age of 45.

There is never a good time to have any kind of illness. I am thankful for all the treatment options we have today, not back when diabetes was not fully understood.

Hope for the future

If some of my relatives had been diagnosed today, I believe they wouldn't have passed at such young ages. With all the medical technology and information available to us now, who knows, maybe a cure to type 2 diabetes will be discovered in our lifetime.

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