FRIDAY, June 17 (HealthDay News) -- Crystal Bowersox, one of 20
American Idol last year, almost had her dreams dashed by the
disease she's had since the age of 6 -- type 1 diabetes.
Several days before the 10 female finalists were supposed to
perform, Crystal started feeling ill. She checked her blood sugar
and it was over 400 milligrams per deciliters (mg/dL) --
dangerously high. Target blood sugar levels in people with diabetes
vary, but generally should be below 180 mg/dL, according to the
U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
"I knew I had to go to the hospital, but I thought it would be a quick fix. I ended up staying there two days," said Bowersox.
The singer/songwriter, now 25, had developed diabetic
ketoacidosis (DKA), a condition common among people first diagnosed
with type 1 diabetes, when they don't know they have the disease.
The biggest risk for DKA is not caring for type 1 diabetes -- not
checking blood sugar and not getting enough insulin. People with
type 1 diabetes have to constantly balance their need for insulin
with the foods they eat, their physical activity and their stress
When DKA occurs, the body can't use sugar (glucose) for energy,
so it starts breaking down fat for energy. This creates a highly
acidic byproduct that can cause severe damage and lead to coma and
death if untreated, explained Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the
clinical diabetes center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York
Bowersox wasn't the first
Idol contestant with diabetes, but she didn't want to
broadcast it. "My priorities weren't where they should have been
Idol process," she said recently. "I wanted to keep my
diabetes a secret. I didn't want special treatment, and I didn't
want to be viewed as a diva."
Because of pharmaceutical and technological advances, there's
almost nothing that people with type 1 diabetes can't do now. But,
doing well with type 1 diabetes starts with good medical
"There are really great technological tools for patients to manage the disease, but they have to be proactive. Insulin pumps are great, but they're not automatic. Patients have to monitor their blood sugar readings and adjust their pumps based on that information," said Zonszein.
Bowersox thought she could handle her condition on her own.
"But, with those crazy intense schedules, you really can't do it
alone. You need a team," she said.
The rigors of a show like
American Idol can cause dramatic blood sugar fluctuations in
someone with type 1 diabetes. "It's different for each person,"
Zonszein said. "You have to see if you need more or less insulin.
Some people are terrific at this, but very often, you see people
who neglect the disease."
That's what Bowersox was doing. "I might have checked my blood
sugar one or two times a day, if that. There were some days that I
would realize I had gone an entire day without testing," the
Chicago resident admitted.
Idol contestant with type 1 diabetes, Kevin Covais, was 16
when he got his shot on the show's fifth season. He told the
producers he had diabetes, and said that they were great about
providing whatever he needed.
Being on stage affected his blood sugar, but most of the time he
was able to compensate for it. "There was definitely one occurrence
when the nerves hit me," he recalled. "I think it was the third
live performance. I felt fine throughout the performance, but as
the judges were critiquing me, I could feel my blood sugar
dropping. I was shaking a bit, and people thought that was nerves,
but it's blood sugar dropping." Low blood sugar can be just as
dangerous as high blood sugar levels.
Fortunately, Bowersox's story has a happy ending. The producers
Idol rescheduled the females' performance to give her an
extra day of recovery, and she finished second overall. She
recently released her first album,
Since then, Bowersox has improved management of her diabetes.
She now checks her blood sugar levels 10 or more times a day. "When
you know what your reading is, you know what to do. The only way
you can live your life is by monitoring your diabetes," she
She and Covais are now active in diabetes advocacy, helping the
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Diabetes Research
Institute. And, Bowersox has partnered with the makers of OneTouch
blood glucose meters on their LifeFirst campaign to help highlight
the importance of blood sugar testing.
"I realized that everything I did was being watched carefully, and to be a good role model, I had to live it. I had to let diabetes become a natural part of my life. Positivity begets positivity. There are no limitations. You can be anything if you maintain good glucose control," she said.
Learn more about diabetic ketoacidosis from the
American Diabetes Association.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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