RENO, Nev. (KOLO)-- If managed, diabetes can be a disease patients live with. But combined with an eating disorder, the results can be deadly. Diabulemia is a condition unknown to the general public, but all too well understood by diabetic patients.
Diabulemia occurs when an eating disorder accompanies diabetes and diabetics do not take insulin.
Diabetes patient Alicia Arnold carries a kit around with her at all times.
A testing strip, reader, insulin--all to test her blood sugars a couple times a day or when she thinks she needs to. Diagnosed with the disease at age 12, she says she knows the seriousness of not staying on top of diabetes.
“Because if you don't have your insulin, it feels terrible. Your blood sugar goes really, really high and you get groggy and lethargic and it doesn't feel good. If you don't have snacks when your blood sugar goes low that can be dangerous, even deadly,” says Arnold.
But in the diabetic world, there are patients who know they need insulin to stay healthy....but refuse to administer enough, or any at all.
“Eating disorders are a mystery. Why does someone starve themselves when there is food available? Why does somebody eat food and then throw it up after they eat it? So eating disorders don't make sense,” says Lorainne Platka-Bird, a certified diabetes educator.
Called Diabulemia, it occurs when an eating disorder accompanies diabetes. Patients understand if they don't administer their insulin, they won't gain weight.
“Restrict insulin, lose a couple of pounds. But then it starts to become addictive,” says Platka-Bird as she describes the progression of the disease.
It’s estimated 38% percent of females and 16% of males with diabetes have eating disorder behaviors. But withdrawing insulin from their medical plan has other drawbacks than just losing weight.
Platka-Bird gives us one patient example.
“Who was in her early 20s. Blind in one eye, nearly blind in the other. Kidney failure, extreme neuropathy. So she was just really, really sick,” says Platka-Bird.
Platka-Bird says at the Center for Hope of the Sierras, patients undergo extensive education about their disease--surprisingly enough some patients have never received proper training. Then, she says, the work begins on the eating disorder. But the diabetes patient finds herself walking a fine line
“We do have to manage their diabetes and we do want them to learn to eat freely. So they have to learn to do that,” says Platka-Bird.
Diabulemia has been called the most dangerous eating disorder no one has ever heard of. Those who treat the disease say it’s not a medical disorder, but a psychological one.
Fortunately for the diabulemia patient, both can be managed. Center for Hope of the Sierras was one of the first facilities nationwide to treat Daibulemia.
Click here for information on Center for the Hope of the Sierras.