What Is Type 1 Diabetes?

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Diabetes is a group of disorders that all have the hallmark sign of high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. The symptoms—frequent urination and thirst—may be missed if you’re busy or not paying attention. But your body cannot tolerate recurring or chronic high blood sugar. If not lowered to a normal level, chronic high blood sugar can lead to health problems including:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is one of two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes most often develops in children but can occur at any age. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 5% to 10% of all diabetes cases are type 1 (Source: NIH).

In type 1 diabetes, the beta cells in your pancreas are destroyed. Your beta cells make insulin, the hormone your body uses to turn the sugar from food into energy. If your body can’t make insulin, it can’t use the sugar in your blood for fuel.

How Did I Get Type 1 Diabetes?

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes type 1 diabetes and the destruction of your insulin-producing cells. They think it’s an autoimmune disease. In an autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks your body’s own cells as if they were foreign invaders. Most health experts believe an environmental factor, such as a virus, triggers the process. They also agree that genetic factors may play a role. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes.

Are There Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes?

You tend to develop the symptoms of type 1 diabetes very quickly. Your symptoms also tend to be very severe as your body tries to get rid of the extra sugar. Common symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:

Other symptoms you may have include:

When thinking about a young child with symptoms of diabetes, consider how they might communicate their symptoms. Do they:

  • Go to the bathroom all day long?

  • Ask for something to drink more often than usual?

  • Tell you that they are always hungry or that they can’t seem to eat enough?

  • Tell you that they too tired to go to school or even play with their friends?

  • Complain about prickling, or a pins-and-needles feeling in their hands or feet?

  • Complain about not feeling well even though they don’t have obvious symptoms?

How Do I Treat Type 1 Diabetes?

Your goal in treating type 1 diabetes is to keep your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Your doctor is best able to suggest blood sugar level guidelines for you based on your specific circumstances.

You must use insulin injections to treat type 1 diabetes because your body can’t make insulin at all. You will also need to use a blood glucose monitor to check your levels. This allows you to see how your body responds to different foods and activities. It will also help you and your doctor adjust your insulin treatment to meet your goals and keep you healthy.

Other strategies you’ll need to use to control your blood sugar include:

  • Food planning for both meals and snacks

  • Regular exercise and physical activity

  • Stress management

Caring for Yourself

You will have type 1 diabetes for your whole life. Your healthcare team can help you live a normal life by setting realistic goals and supporting you along the way. However, it ultimately comes down to you. You are the most important member of your team. The key to staying healthy with type 1 diabetes is learning how to take care of yourself.

Follow these tips for living with type 1 diabetes:

  • Go to all of your appointments

  • Stay up to date with all recommended screenings and vaccinations

  • Know how to handle blood sugar that is too low (hypoglycemia)

  • Know what to do when you are sick

  • Find and join a support group

  • Check your feet daily

  • Use non-food rewards for your successes

  • Don’t let setbacks discourage you; use them as a chance to learn

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Mar 7

  1. Diabetes A-Z. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Diabetes/Pages/default.aspx

  2. Mayfield J. Diagnosis and Classification of Diabetes Mellitus: New Criteria. Am Fam Physician. 1998;58(6):1355-62, 1369-70.

  3. National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/pdf/ndfs_2011.pdf

  4. Living With Type 1 Diabetes. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/recently-diagnosed/living-with-type-1-diabetes.html

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