Arrow ImageAcute, PICU and Rapid Response

Posted on Nov 9 2021 by Fiona Bailey

A young woman who nearly died from a diabetes-related eating disorder says she “owes her life” to a Northampton doctor who saved her.

Angela, who was an inpatient at St Andrew’s Healthcare on Billing Road for two years, has decided to tell her story in a bid to raise awareness of diabulimia on Sunday, November 14, which is World Diabetes Day, 2021.

Diabulimia affects people with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition that requires insulin to live. But those who have the eating disorder deliberately reduce or completely stop taking their insulin to lose weight.

Angela, who was once a diabetes nurse, also has an Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD). She had been in other hospitals for several years before meeting Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Baggott, who she says turned her life around.

She said: “I had hit rock bottom when I came to St Andrew’s. To be honest, I didn’t feel worthy of living. My health was in a terrible state and my diabetes had spiralled. I wasn’t eating properly and not taking my insulin when I needed to.”

At her worst, the 27-year-old was experiencing Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) several times a week. DKA is a serious problem that can happen if a person with diabetes starts to run out of insulin in their body. When this happens, harmful substances called ketones build up in the body, which can be life-threatening if it is not found and treated quickly.

In addition, her HbA1c levels, an average marker of blood sugar levels over the course of two to three months, had peaked at 127mmol/mol. They should be 48mmol/mol (6.5%) or below.

Angela, who was discharged from St Andrew’s two weeks ago, said: “Dr Baggott saved me and I owe my life to him. He understood that in order to treat my diabetic eating disorder, he needed to work on my mental health first which was triggering me and making me want to punish myself by not taking insulin when I needed it.”

A timetable of Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) sessions gradually helped Angela understand more about her EUPD and how an abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend had significantly impacted her. Now she is feeling stronger, happy and planning to return to nursing.

Dr Baggott said: “Angela is a remarkable young woman, who became very unwell and used her diabetes to punish her body. Diabulimia is an eating disorder that is just as serious as anorexia nervosa or bulimia for those with diabetes, but as there is not as much awareness many people might miss the signs.

“I applaud Angela for raising awareness because the more people who know about this condition and how harmful it can be, the better.”  

World Diabetes Day takes place every year on November 14 to help raise awareness of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. This year marks 100 years since the discovery of a treatment that has saved millions of lives around the world – insulin.