What is Type 1 Diabetes?

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Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own pancreas, destroying the cells that produce insulin.

Your body needs insulin to properly use and store the energy from food which exists in your bloodstream as sugar, called glucose. When there is not enough insulin present, the glucose builds up in your bloodstream instead of getting to your cells, where it can be used for energy.

Who gets type 1 diabetes?

It is most commonly diagnosed from infancy to the late 30s, although it can occur at any age. Most people are diagnosed when they’re between 11 and 14 years old. According to the American Diabetes Association, only about five percent of people with diabetes – about three million Americans – have type 1. Type 1 diabetes is more common in Caucasians than in other races. About the same number of men as women have type 1 diabetes.

What causes it?

Scientists and doctors don’t completely understand what causes type 1 diabetes. Genetic factors may be involved, so if you have a family member who has type 1 diabetes, you may be at greater risk. It’s also thought to be an autoimmune response, where factors like a virus or toxin make your immune system kill the cells that produce insulin. There’s nothing you can do to avoid getting type 1 diabetes.

How is it diagnosed?

Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed when you exhibit some of the warning signs and your blood glucose is at a certain level. It might also be diagnosed as the result of a fasting blood test where you don’t eat or drink overnight, then have your blood sugar tested by your doctor. He or she may also test your urine for sugar.

How is it treated?

If you have type 1 diabetes, you’ll be prescribed insulin that must be injected several times a day. Or, you may have an insulin pump that continuously infuses insulin into your body.

You’ll need to measure your blood-glucose level six or more times a day (on average) to make sure your levels aren’t getting too high or too low.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you also must watch your eating and exercise habits. You’ll learn how to balance your insulin needs throughout the day and be aware of the effects that your diet and activities have on your blood sugar levels.

What are the warning signs?

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes can occur suddenly, so it’s important to know what to look out for and ask your doctor or your child’s doctor about any of the following warning signs:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme lack of energy
  • Increased appetite
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Fruity odor on breath
  • Numbness in the feet
  • Rapid breathing for no apparent reason
  • Flushed face
  • Vomiting or stomach pain

What are the complications?

Complications of type 1 diabetes that isn’t properly controlled can be very serious and even life-threatening. Long-term complications can include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Blindness

What is the prognosis?

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong, serious disease. But if you have it and manage it properly, you can lead a full, long life. Researchers are working to develop new treatments, including stem cell therapy to replace the insulin-producing cells that aren’t working. They’re also trying to develop smarter insulin pumps that act as an artificial pancreas. In fact, there has been recent success in combining drugs that help preserve the function of the insulin-producing cells so patients can make some insulin on their own.

As research increases and technology progresses, those with type 1 diabetes will no doubt have even more options available to maintain a high quality of life.