ADHD and Diabetes Can Look Similar
ADHD and diabetes are two very different illnesses that can look surprisingly similar at times. When you or your child lives with both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and type 1 diabetes, you might notice that one condition influences the other and that there are even some shared symptoms between diabetes and ADHD. Identifying the similarities between these two difficult conditions can help you recognize the symptoms you’re dealing with so you can take steps to feel better.
ADHD and Diabetes: Different Illnesses, Shared Symptoms
Diabetes is a disease of metabolism in which the body can’t use the glucose (sugar) it produces during digestion. When you eat carbohydrates, they’re digested into glucose and enter the bloodstream where they’re transported to all of the body’s cells to be used as energy. Glucose can’t enter cells by itself but instead needs a key to get in. That key is the hormone insulin.
In diabetes, there is a problem with insulin that prevents glucose from entering your body’s cells. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder: the body’s immune system attacks the pancreas, the organ that makes insulin, rendering the body incapable of making insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin, but it either makes too little or the body just doesn’t use it efficiently. In both forms of the disease, the body can’t use or control blood sugar on its own; therefore, you must take on the stressful and difficult job of controlling your blood sugar for your whole system.
ADHD, in contrast, is a brain-based disorder that impairs such functions as focus, attention, memory, organization, attention to detail, and behavior. Like diabetes, hormones are involved. Rather than problems with insulin levels, though, ADHD involves hormones known as neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine.
Despite the differences, diabetes and ADHD symptoms can overlap. Symptoms shared by these illnesses include experiences like:
- Anger (see "Diabetic Rage: Can Diabetes Cause Aggressive Behavior?" and "How to Handle ADHD and Anger in Adults")
- Mood swings (see "Does Diabetes Cause Mood Swings?")
- Feeling frustrated and overwhelmed
- Guilt and self-blame for being unable to function the way you “should” be able to
- Depression (see "What Are the Effects of Diabetes on Mood Disorders?" and "Diabetes and Depression: Two Difficult Conditions to Manage")
These experiences are a result of what is happening in the body. Blood sugar levels that remain too high (hyperglycemia), too low (hypoglycemia) or that fluctuate too rapidly can cause emotional effects. Similarly, changing neurotransmitter activity affects levels of dopamine and norepinephrine as well as what the brain does or does not do with these hormones.
Knowing that diabetes and ADHD can look similar can help you improve your treatment of both conditions. Use the similarities to your advantages to treat them at their source.
Similarities in Treating ADHD and Diabetes
Living with either ADHD or diabetes can be highly frustrating because each one interferes in daily life, and each requires constant management to keep in control. Living with both of these together magnifies the difficulties.
You can use similarities between them to your advantage and manage your illnesses together.
Work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan for both diabetes and ADHD. Both can be treated using these approaches:
- Regular exercise
In implementing your treatment plan, keep in mind that routine is critical. ADHD makes it difficult to remember what you need to do or to follow through with your plan even when you remember what it is. Developing a routine, and writing it down in a visible place, will help you tend to your treatment needs.
Working with a therapist who understands the unique needs of diabetes and ADHD can drastically improve your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and overall mental health and wellbeing. Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in replacing feelings of anger and frustration with acceptance and helps people deal with the challenges of living with ADHD and diabetes in order to thrive.
Diabetes and ADHD are drastically different yet share similarities. Perhaps the most important similarities for your health and wellbeing are that they do require daily management, but you can learn to treat and manage both in a way that works for you and moves you forward. Your life doesn’t have to be severely limited by ADHD and diabetes.
Peterson, T. (2019, January 8). ADHD and Diabetes Can Look Similar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, September 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/diabetes/mental-health/adhd-and-diabetes-can-look-similar