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Diabulimia: What is it, symptoms and treatment

Diabulimia is the common term used to describe a serious eating disorder that can occur in people with type 1 diabetes. People with this disorder, intentionally reduce or stop taking the amount of insulin needed to control their blood sugar levels, with the goal of losing weight.

In type 1 diabetes the body can not produce insulin. When the person does not administer the required amount, several serious complications can arise that can be life threatening.

People with type 1 diabetes who are taking a lower amount of insulin should consult a psychologist to assess whether they have this disorder in order to initiate the most appropriate treatment and avoid complications to their health.

Diabulimia: What is it, symptoms and treatment

How to diagnose

Diabulimia is not easily identified, especially by other people. However, you may suspect that you have this disorder when you present the following characteristics:

  • You have type 1 diabetes;
  • You reduce the amount of insulin or completely omit some doses;
  • You are afraid that insulin will cause weight gain.

In addition, as you don't take insulin to lower blood sugar levels, there may also be signs related to increased blood sugar including dry mouth, thirst, frequent tiredness, drowsiness, and headaches.

One way to suspect of diabulimia is to compare blood glucose readings from an earlier period, seeing if the blood sugar levels are controlled or not. This is because, generally, people with type 1 diabetes, who make correct use of insulin, can keep blood glucose levels well controlled.

Causes for diabulimia

Diabulimia is a psychological disorder that develops from an irrational fear that the person with type 1 diabetes has that constant use of insulin can cause weight gain.

Therefore, the person begins by reducing the doses of insulin and can, end up avoiding various doses throughout the day.

Treatment for diabulimia

Since it is a psychological disorder the diabulimia should be discussed with a psychologist, first to confirm the diagnosis and then to start the most appropriate treatment. However, other health professionals who are accustomed to dealing with diabetes, such as nutritionists or endocrinologists, should also be part of the treatment process.

Usually the treatment plan is started with psychotherapy sessions to help the person have a more positive self-image and demystify the relationship between insulin use and weight changes.

Depending on the degree of the disorder, it may still be necessary to see an endocrinologist more often, as well as involving the whole family to help the person to overcome this phase.

Possible complications

Diabulimia is an eating disorder and is a very serious situation that can be life threatening. The first complications of this disorder are directly related to the increase of blood sugar levels that end up making it difficult to heal wounds, facilitating the onset of infections and leading to dehydration.

In the long term, even more serious complications can arise, such as:

  • Progressive loss of vision;
  • Swelling of the eyes;
  • Loss of sensation in the fingers and toes;
  • Amputation of feet or hands;
  • Chronic diarrhea;
  • Kidney and liver disorders.

In addition, as there is a lack of insulin in the blood, the body can not properly absorb the nutrients of food eaten, eventually leaving the body in a situation of malnutrition and hunger that, along with the other complications can leave the person in a coma and can lead to death.

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