‘Although I was kind of expecting to be told that I had type 1 diabetes, it still came as a shock’

Although the diagnosis came as a shock to Maria Moran, she was determined not to let it hold her back

When Maria Moran started to feel more tired and more frequently than she was used to, she began to realise that something was up. She went to the pharmacist who encouraged her to try some vitamin supplements and, along with trying to eat more freshly prepared food and getting to bed earlier, she thought this would do the trick. However, she started to feel increasingly drained and nothing could shift the tiredness. She also had an urge to go to the bathroom several times during the day and night. In addition, she was constantly thirsty.

Although neither of her parents had diabetes, she was aware of the telltale signs and everything seemed to fit, so she decided to go and see her doctor to get some tests done. “I was 27, so I didn’t think it was something which could develop in adulthood, but the signs were all there,” says Maria.

“So, although I was kind of expecting to be told that I had type 1 diabetes, it still came as a shock – as I have always been very fit and healthy. I’m part of a running group and I also do a bit of cycling and tennis – so diabetes was never something that was on my radar.

“But I went to the doctor anyway and told her what my symptoms were, she agreed it sounded suspiciously like diabetes but not to get stressed as it could be something else. She took some blood and after waiting a couple of days, I got a call back to be told that I had type 1 diabetes and I should go to the hospital to get medication and learn how to deal with the condition.”


Although upset at this turn of events, the Dublin woman was determined to get to grips with diabetes as quickly as possible and not to let it hold her back. “I had to learn how to live my life in a totally new way,” says the now 32 year old. “The first and most obvious thing was getting to grips with insulin injections – I have always had a fear of needles so this was the biggest challenge for me as I would have to inject myself. I found this difficult in the beginning and used to absolutely dread it. My partner offered to do it for me, but I knew it was something I had to overcome.

“I also became super invested in my diet and physical health and now I try to exercise most days, even if it is just going for a walk or a cycle. I am very conscious about what I eat and know exactly what carbohydrate, protein and fat I have in my diet. Since my diagnosis I learned a lot, through trial and error, about how all of these impacted on my glucose levels.

“My blood glucose levels are not always as they should be, so I try to keep track of it with a CGM [continuous glucose monitor], which I have found very reassuring – because in the beginning, I used to worry about going to sleep and what would happen if my glucose levels weren’t what they needed to be ... I think that diet and exercise are really helping me to keep on top of my diabetes. Of course, there was a lot of learning and compromising to begin with but I joined a few support groups on Facebook and found the community support to be fantastic.”

Today Maria, who works in finance, says she has adapted well to her new lifestyle and would encourage anyone else who has just been diagnosed to “not lose heart and try to stay positive”.

“I’m doing really well at the moment and am probably healthier than I was before I was diagnosed. I have a really good diet, I exercise regularly and am feeling good. Of course, I know I have diabetes and it’s always there in the background but if I keep on top of it then everything is fine.

“I would say to others who have just been diagnosed that although it can be a shock and difficult to take in at the beginning, with the right management everything will be fine and you will be able to live your life to the full, just as you did before, if not even better, as you now have a way of ensuring that you don’t get those horrible symptoms. So try not to worry, take the advice given by experts, get support from others on social media groups and carry on enjoying your life to the full.”

Although there is no national register for diabetes in Ireland, Christina Hamilton, education and support co-ordinator for Diabetes Ireland says it is estimated that the figure amounts to tens of thousands. “Not having a register makes it difficult to correctly identify how many people are living with type 1 diabetes in this country,” she says.

“But we currently estimate the prevalence of type 1 diabetes in Ireland using data from Scotland, and it is estimated that there are currently 30,895 people living with the condition in this country.

Although type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition which, to date, has no cure, Hamilton says it can and should be managed well. “Type 1 diabetes is managed with insulin either in the form of multiple daily injections or insulin delivered via a pump,” she says. “Those living with the condition are also required to check blood glucose levels multiple times daily either by finger prick or by the wearing of a continuous glucose monitor, they also need to intensely manage and balance food intake and exercise.

“Those who have blood glucose levels which remain high over time are at an increased risk of developing a number of complications, such as kidney complications, heart failure, complications with vision, complications with nerve endings, particularly in the lower extremities such as the feet – something which is called neuropathy. And damage to nerve endings can also result in issues with the stomach, bowel and bladder and erectile dysfunction.”

About type 1 diabetes

  • Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition that occurs because the body stops producing the hormone insulin.
  • It is an autoimmune condition, meaning the immune system attacks the insulin producing cells in the pancreas and it stops making insulin.
  • It can develop at any age.
  • It is the most common chronic health condition in children.
  • It happens when, for reasons still unknown, the body attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, an essential hormone that acts as a key to allow the body to access glucose and move it to cells to use as energy.
  • When insulin is not present glucose levels rise in the bloodstream causing the person to feel unwell.
  • In untreated diabetes, the level of glucose in the blood gets too high, if there is a delay in diagnosis it can lead to critical illness as a life-threatening condition known as Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) can develop.
  • DKA is a medical emergency, the symptoms are dehydration, vomiting, abdominal pain and breathing problems. If untreated, DKA can progress to coma and can be fatal.
  • Early diagnosis of type 1 diabetes avoids critical illness and DKA and will also improve the long-term outcomes for the individual.
  • Type 1 diabetes does require daily self-management but with the support of the diabetes team and with education on how to manage it daily it is not a barrier to leading a normal life.
  • Type 1 diabetes is not preventable or related to lifestyle choice, it is linked to genetics and environmental factors.
  • It usually develops quickly and people may experience a range of symptoms, however the most common symptoms can be summarised using the Acronym TEST:
  • Thirst: increased thirst, throughout the day and night.
  • Energy reduced: people may feel lethargic and lack energy.
  • Sudden weight change: people often lose weight quickly in the weeks before diagnosis.
  • Toilet trips: increased need to pass urine.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms a simple blood or urine check with your GP or Nurse can diagnose Diabetes

About type 2 diabetes

  • Type 2 diabetes usually develops later in adulthood but can happen at a younger age. It happens when the body is not making enough insulin or what it does make is not working .
  • It can go undiagnosed for many years, risk factors for type 2 diabetes include family history, age and lifestyle.
  • Anyone who has concerns should seek medical advice.
  • For more information see diabetes.ie
Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories