Usually, the term honeymoon makes you think of exotic locations like the Caribbean or Paris. Maybe you think of cushy hotels or candlelit dinners. Or maybe you just think of that sweet, somewhat mushy time that a new couple experiences before reality sets in.
Many people with newly-diagnosed type 1 diabetes experience a honeymoon phase, but it doesn’t involve massages or mints on their pillows. It usually manifests as a period of time when suddenly blood sugar levels are easier to control, less insulin (or even no insulin) is needed, and life seems a little easier.
But as with any honeymoon, it doesn’t last forever.
What Is a Diabetic Honeymoon Phase?
Shortly after diagnosis, many people with type 1 diabetes will experience a time when the pancreas starts to produce more insulin and blood sugar levels are closer to normal and generally easier to control.
At the initial onset of type 1, the body has begun to kill off insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The body struggles to control blood sugar and the symptoms of diabetes manifest: extreme thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, irritability, blurry vision, and others. Hopefully, these symptoms lead to a timely diagnosis and plan for insulin therapy.
Once insulin therapy starts, stress on the pancreas is reduced, and it essentially gets a chance to relax. This rest period helps it to stimulate the body’s remaining beta cells. These beta cells can then produce insulin and help regulate blood sugar naturally. They fill in where insulin injections leave off, and insulin injections may even need to be reduced or eliminated for a time. Blood glucose levels return to normal, and having diabetes doesn’t seem all that bad.
Since type 1 diabetes usually starts at a young age, it may be a parent enjoying the honeymoon phase. Then again, they may simply be eager for the honeymoon to be over. Because with diabetes, even a honeymoon has its challenges.
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Challenges Of The Honeymoon Phase
There is a high degree of uncertainty during the honeymoon phase. The beta cells may be rallying and doing their utmost to produce the proper insulin levels before they are destroyed by the body’s immune system, but eventually they will give out. How long, and how well, they will continue to function is a complete unknown.
While in general the honeymoon phase makes for easier blood sugar control, the last-stand of the beta cells may mean that they work too well when combined with injected insulin, putting someone at risk of hypoglycemia. Or, fooled by steady levels, someone may not think they need an injection and be let down when the beta cells stop producing insulin, putting someone at risk of ketoacidosis.
Most people, whether they are parenting a child in the honeymoon phase or in their own honeymoon phase, try to extend the phase of better blood-sugar control as long as possible. But for some, the unpredictability simply isn’t worth it.
Writer Tara Bryant-Gray shared her frustration while going through her then 11-year-old son’s honeymoon phase, “There is nothing romantic and fun about trying to manage insulin levels when one’s pancreas pretends not be diabetic and randomly pumps out insulin.” Tara’s son’s honeymoon phase was unpredictable, and his blood sugar would seem fine and then jump to one scary extreme or the other. She was eager for his pancreas to give out completely so that they could establish a safe routine. On the other hand, some parents are committed to making the honeymoon phase last as long as possible, even experimenting with gluten-free diets in an attempt to reduce stress on the pancreas (more on that later).
It only makes sense that there are different reactions to the honeymoon phase since it manifests differently in everyone. Of course, most everyone agrees that the term “honeymoon” is not very fitting for this period of a diabetic’s life.