A Guide to Type 1 Diabetes

Medically Reviewed By Marina Basina, M.D.

Type 1 diabetes is the condition of blood sugar levels becoming too high. Not having enough insulin causes the high blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes can be serious. However, daily medication and lifestyle approaches can help you manage type 1 diabetes. Diabetes is a lifelong condition that usually requires daily treatment. With diabetes, the amount of sugar, or glucose, in the blood becomes too high.

High blood sugar levels may lead to organ damage over time, so diabetes has a risk of complications. Treatment can help prevent damage, reduce symptoms, and improve quality of life.

This article explains type 1 diabetes, its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

Type 1 diabetes vs. type 2 diabetes

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Type 1 and type 2 diabetes can seem similar, but they develop in different ways. Doctors treat the types differently.

Type 1 diabetes is when the body’s immune system destroys the cells responsible for making the hormone insulin. This leads to high blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes is when the body’s cells do not produce enough insulin or the cells are not responsive enough to the insulin.

Type 1 diabetes symptoms

You may not experience noticeable symptoms of diabetes for months or years Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source .

Symptoms may then appear suddenly or severely and can include:

  • increased thirst
  • increased hunger
  • urinating more than usual, especially at night
  • fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • loss of muscle
  • itchiness, particularly around the genitals
  • frequent thrush or yeast infections
  • blurry vision

Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, commonly develops during childhood. However, you can develop type 1 diabetes at any age.

Read more about type 1 diabetes that develops in adulthood.

Contact a doctor as soon as possible if you notice any symptoms of diabetes. Call 911 for the following symptoms:

Diagnosing type 1 diabetes

The diagnostic process may start with a doctor asking about your symptoms, medical history, and family medical history.

Your doctor may also carry out a short physical exam. Afterward, other tests can help identify diabetes and rule out other possible causes. For diabetes, this mainly includes blood tests to measure blood sugar levels and identify autoantibody levels. Some types of autoantibody are more common in people with type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes can run in families. Your doctor may recommend that your close family members also get an autoantibody test.

Other tests for diabetes can include urine tests.

Causes of type 1 diabetes

Clinicians believe that type 1 diabetes may develop Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source as a type of autoimmune reaction. This is when the immune system attacks the body’s own healthy tissues by mistake.

In type 1 diabetes, autoimmune reactions may cause the immune system to destroy beta cells, which produce insulin. These beta cells are present in the pancreas. Over time, damage can cause the pancreas to produce less and less insulin. Eventually, the pancreas stops making insulin completely.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also suggests that type 1 diabetes may develop from a combination of genetic factors and environmental triggers. For example, someone may be genetically susceptible to type 1 diabetes and experience a trigger such as a viral infection.

Another indication that type 1 diabetes may have a genetic component is that it often runs in families. You may be more likely to have type 1 diabetes if you have a biological parent or sibling with the condition.

Lifestyle factors, such as diet, do not cause type 1 diabetes.

Treatment options for type 1 diabetes

The main treatment for type 1 diabetes is taking insulin medication.

There are different types of insulin medications for type 1 diabetes. Your doctor may recommend using more than just one type of insulin.

Insulin medications can be taken with:

  • Insulin pens: Insulin pens contain a preloaded dose that is injected into the skin with a needle.
  • Injections: This involves using a syringe and needle to inject insulin.
  • Insulin pumps: An insulin pump is a small digital device that remains on the skin. It delivers insulin either in one continuous, steady dose or as one larger dose around mealtimes.

Your medical team will work with you to find the easiest, safest, and best-priced option for you. They will help you practice taking your medication correctly.

If insulin alone does not help you reach your target blood sugar levels, your doctor may recommend additional medications. One example is pramlintide (Symlin, SymlinPen). Given via injections, pramlintide works alongside insulin to keep blood sugar levels from rising too much after eating.

Metformin (Fortamet, Glucophage, Riomet) is a medication usually used for type 2 diabetes. However, metformin may also reduce the amount of insulin you need to take for type 1 diabetes. More research is needed to understand its overall benefits on blood sugar in type 1 diabetes.

Further research is investigating future options for diabetes treatment, such as pancreas cell transplantation.

Talk with your doctor if you have questions about medication options or how to use them.

Diet and other treatment approaches

Doctors may recommend following certain dietary habits to help manage blood sugar levels. This may include monitoring or limiting daily carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates can cause more significant blood sugar rises.

Learn more about the link between sugar, carbohydrates, and diabetes.

Work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to create a meal plan or discuss personal nutritional guidance. Always talk with a doctor before making any significant dietary changes.

Other ways to help manage diabetes and reduce the risk of further negative effects include:

  • getting regular physical activity
  • monitoring blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels to help reduce the risk of complications
  • following your prescribed treatment plan and working with your medical team to optimize your care plan
  • not smoking
  • having regular medical checkups, including regular dental and eye checkups
  • talking with your doctor promptly if you experience changes in your symptoms or have questions about your health

Possible complications of type 1 diabetes

Having chronically high blood sugar levels can damage certain body parts and functions. This may lead to complications and secondary effects such as:

Effective treatment can help delay or even prevent complications of diabetes.


Some people may develop hypoglycemia as a result of diabetes. Hypoglycemia is when blood sugar levels become too low.

Most of the time, hypoglycemia occurs from taking too much insulin. However, hypoglycemia can also occur from:

  • skipping meals
  • intense physical activity
  • drinking alcohol, particularly on an empty stomach

Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

Eating or drinking something containing sugar can treat hypoglycemia. Contact a doctor promptly if symptoms of hypoglycemia do not improve or are concerning to you.

Outlook for type 1 diabetes

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that can lead to life threatening complications if not treated.

A 2023 review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that treatment can lower the risk of death and complications, or delay complications. Treatment may also improve your quality of life and alleviate symptoms.

Still, type 1 diabetes may require daily care for the rest of a person’s life. New technologies, such as insulin pumps, can make treatment more convenient and comfortable.

Talk with your medical team if you have questions about your outlook or concerns about managing type 1 diabetes.

Support and resources for type 1 diabetes

Your doctor and medical team may be able to help you access support for type 1 diabetes, including:

  • counseling and mental health support
  • local social support groups
  • local healthcare centers
  • reduced-cost care

The following organizations also offer resources:


Type 1 diabetes is when the body stops producing insulin, which causes blood sugar levels to become too high. Autoimmune activity that damages the cells that produce insulin may cause type 1 diabetes to develop.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include feeling very thirsty, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. Other symptoms include itchiness and frequent yeast infections.

Treatment for type 1 diabetes mainly involves taking insulin and monitoring diet, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol. Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition. However, effective treatment can improve symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

Contact your doctor if you have symptoms of type 1 diabetes.

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Medical Reviewer: Marina Basina, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2023 Aug 31
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