Type 1 Diabetes

What is Type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes (previously called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes) causes your blood glucose (or blood sugar) to get too high. It occurs when your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or stops making it altogether. The insulin in your body helps move blood sugar into your body’s cells where it is used as fuel.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body has an “autoimmune reaction” causing the body to destroy the cells in the pancreas that make insulin (beta cells). Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults, but it can develop at any age. It is much less common than Type 2 diabetes; only about 5 percent of the people who have diabetes have Type 1.

What are the symptoms?

It can take months or years for symptoms to appear, but when they do they can be severe. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Increased thirst/hunger
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Pain in your belly
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Heavy, labored breathing
  • Frequent infections of the skin, urinary tract, or vagina

In an emergency, persons with diabetes may experience shaking, confusion, rapid breathing, stomach pain, unconsciousness, and a fruity smell on their breath.

How is Type 1 diabetes diagnosed?

If you have the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, go to your doctor’s office. You can find out if you have it by taking a simple blood test. If your doctor thinks you have Type 1 diabetes, your blood may also be tested for “autoantibodies,” which show that your body is attacking itself. You may also have your urine tested for “ketones,” which are produced when your body burns fat for energy. Neither autoantibodies nor ketones are present in Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is not preventable, but you can live with it if you manage it.

How can I manage the disease?

Many people with Type 1 diabetes live long, healthy lives. The key to good health is to keep your blood sugar levels within the range your doctor gives you. You’ll need to check them often and adjust insulin, food, and activities to make that happen.

Anyone with Type 1 diabetes must have insulin injections (or wear an insulin pump) every day to control blood sugar.

You’ll also need to check your blood sugar regularly. Your doctor will tell you how often to check it and what your target levels should be. Complications may result if diabetes is not treated.

What are the roles of nutrition and physical activity?

Type 1 diabetes is not caused by diet and lifestyle habits, but they are important in treating it. You have to balance your insulin dose and the food you eat with any activity, even household chores or yard work.

Check your blood sugar before, during, and after an activity to find out how it affects you. Some things will make your blood sugar go up; others won't. Always keep a snack with carbohydrates to prevent your blood sugar from dropping too low.

You’ll also need to understand how food affects your blood sugar. Once you know the roles that carbohydrates, fats, and proteins play, you can build a healthy eating plan to keep your blood sugar levels where they should be. A diabetes educator or registered dietitian can help you get started. 

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