What Is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes definition
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease. In people with type 1 diabetes, cells in the pancreas that produce insulin are destroyed and the body is unable to make insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that helps your body’s cells use glucose for energy. Your body gets glucose from the food you eat. Insulin allows the glucose to pass from your blood into your body’s cells.
When the cells have enough, your liver and muscle tissues store the extra glucose, also called blood sugar, in the form of glycogen. It’s broken down into blood sugar and released when you need energy between meals, during exercise or while you sleep.
In type 1 diabetes, the body is unable to process glucose, due to the lack of insulin. Glucose from your food can’t make its way into the cells. This leaves too much glucose circulating in your blood. High blood sugar levels can lead to both short-term and long-term problems.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes
The following are symptoms of type 1 diabetes:
dramatic weight loss in a short period of time
A person might also develop ketoacidosis, a complication of diabetes. Symptoms of this condition include:
dry skin and mouth
fruity breath odor
vomiting or stomach pain
If you have one or more type 1 diabetes symptoms, you should visit your doctor. But if you have symptoms of ketoacidosis, you should get medical help right away. Ketoacidosis is a medical emergency. Learn more about early signs, as well as advanced symptoms, of diabetes.
Type 1 vs. type 2 diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. They have similar symptoms and over time, they can lead to many of the same complications. However, they are very different diseases.
Type 1 diabetes is the result of the body not producing insulin on its own. Taking insulin is necessary for survival, to move glucose from the bloodstream into the body’s cells.
For people with type 2 diabetes, the cells have stopped responding well to insulin. The body struggles to move glucose from the blood into the cells, despite adequate levels of the hormone. Eventually, their bodies may stop making adequate insulin entirely.
Type 1 diabetes develops very quickly and symptoms are obvious. For people with type 2 diabetes, the condition can develop over many years. In fact, a person with type 2 diabetes may not know they have it until they have a complication.
The two types of diabetes are caused by different things. They also have unique risk factors. Read about similarities and differences between the types of diabetes.
Causes of type 1 diabetes
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. However, it's thought to be an autoimmune disease. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks beta cells in the pancreas. These are the cells that make insulin. Scientists don't fully understand why this happens. Genetic and environmental elements, such as viruses, may play a role.
Diagnosis of type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed through a series of tests. Some can be conducted quickly, while others require hours of preparation or monitoring. Type 1 diabetes often develops quickly. People are diagnosed if they meet one of the following criteria:
fasting blood sugar > 126 mg/dL on two separate tests
random blood sugar > 200 mg/dL, along with symptoms of diabetes
hemoglobin A1c > 6.5 on two separate tests
These criteria are also used to diagnose type 2 diabetes. In fact, people with type 1 diabetes are sometimes misdiagnosed as having type 2. A doctor may not realize you’ve been misdiagnosed until you begin developing complications or worsening symptoms despite treatment. When your blood sugar gets so high that diabetic ketoacidosis occurs, you become very ill. This is often the reason people end up in the hospital or their doctor’s office and type 1 diabetes is then diagnosed. If you have any of the symptoms of diabetes, your doctor will likely order tests.
Type 1 diabetes treatment
If you receive a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, your body can’t make its own insulin. You’ll need to take insulin to help your body use the sugar in your blood. Other treatments may also hold some promise for controlling symptoms of type 1 diabetes.
People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day. You usually take the insulin through an injection.
Some people use an insulin pump. The pump injects insulin through a port in the skin. It can be easier for some people than sticking themselves with a needle. It may also help level out blood sugar highs and lows.
The amount of insulin you need varies throughout the day. People with type 1 diabetes regularly test their blood sugar to figure out how much insulin they need. Both diet and exercise can affect blood sugar levels.
Several insulin types exist. Your doctor may have you try more than one to find what works best for you. Read about the differences in insulin and how it’s administered.
Metformin is a type of oral diabetes medication. For many years, it was only used in people with type 2 diabetes. However, some people with type 1 diabetes can develop insulin resistance. That means the insulin they get from injections doesn’t work as well as it should. Metformin helps lower sugar in the blood by reducing sugar production in the liver. Your doctor may advise you to take Metformin in addition to insulin.
The tuberculosis vaccine may hold promise as a treatment for people with type 1 diabetes. A very small study found that people with type 1 who received two injections of the bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine saw their blood sugar levels stabilize for at least five years.
This option isn’t on the market yet. It’s still undergoing testing and doesn’t have approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Still, it holds promise for future type 1 diabetes treatment.
A new oral medicine may be on the horizon for people with type 1 diabetes. Sotagliflozin (Zynquista) is awaiting FDA approval. If it gets the green light, this drug will be the first oral medication designed to be used alongside insulin in people with type 1 diabetes.
This medicine works to lower glucose levels in the blood by forcing the body to expel it in urine and by reducing glucose absorption in the gut. Similar medicines exist already for people with type 2 diabetes, but none are approved for people with type 1.
Diet and exercise
People with type 1 diabetes should eat regular meals and snacks to keep blood sugar stable. A dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator can help to establish an eating plan. Exercise also helps lower blood sugar levels. Insulin amounts may need to be adjusted according to your level of exercise.
Type 1 diabetes risk factors
Risk factors for type 1 diabetes are poorly understood. However, some potential factors have been identified.
Family history may be important in some cases of type 1 diabetes. If you have a family member with type 1 diabetes, your risk of developing it increases. Several genes have been linked to this condition. However, not everyone who has these genes develops type 1 diabetes. Many researchers and doctors believe some type of trigger causes type 1 diabetes to develop in some people but not others.
Some viruses may trigger type 1 diabetes. It’s unclear which ones might be the culprits, however.
Likewise, people from cold climates are more likely to have type 1 diabetes. Doctors also diagnose more cases of type 1 in winter than they do in summer.
Type 1 diabetes in children
Type 1 diabetes was once known as juvenile diabetes. That is because it’s frequently diagnosed in children and young adults. By comparison, type 2 diabetes is typically diagnosed in older adults. However, both types can be diagnosed at almost any age. Symptoms of diabetes in children include:
wetting the bed or urinating more often
feeling weak or fatigued
being hungry or thirsty more often
As in adults, children with type 1 diabetes are treated with insulin.
The first generation of an artificial pancreas has been recently approved for use in children. This device is inserted under the skin. Then, it measures blood sugar continuously, automatically releasing the right amount of insulin as needed.
Most children still use manual methods for insulin injections and glucose monitoring. In young children especially, this requires a lot of work by parents to keep them safe and healthy. Children with type 1 diabetes can and do live normal, healthy, fulfilling lives. Get answers to questions about how children with diabetes can eat, play and stay healthy.
Life expectancy and statistics
Currently, more than 1.25 million Americans are living with type 1 diabetes. Each year, another 40,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the condition. Despite these large numbers, type 1 diabetes cases make up only about 5 percent of all diabetes cases in the country. Diabetes (type 1 and type 2) is the seventh Trusted Source leading cause of death in the United States. An Australian study of data from 1997 to 2010 found that the average life expectancy of a person with type 1 diabetes was 12 years shorter than the average population. Properly managing the condition can help reduce complications and prolong life expectancy.
Researchers don’t understand exactly what causes type 1 diabetes. However, they believe that a person’s genes may play a role. People who have type 1 diabetes are born with a predisposition to develop the disease. It does appear to be passed down through generations of a family. It’s unclear how the pattern works and why some people in a family will develop diabetes while others don’t. Researchers have identified certain gene variants that may increase a person’s risk. These variants can be shared between parent and child generation after generation. However, only 5 percent of people with these gene variants actually develop type 1 diabetes. That’s why researchers believe genes are only one part of the equation. They think something triggers the disease in people who have the inherited genes. A virus is one suspected trigger. For example, identical twins, who have all the same genes, may not both develop the condition. If one twin has type 1 diabetes, the other twin develops the condition half of the time or less. This is an indication that genes aren’t the only factor.
The ketogenic diet has shown some benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. The high-fat, low-carb diet may help manage blood sugar levels and can even lead to weight loss, a goal for many people with type 2.
For type 1 diabetes, however, the keto diet hasn’t been well-studied. To date, the general dietary recommendation for this type of diabetes is a low-carb diet. However, researchers are looking at the possible benefits and safety of a diet that restricts carbs even more for people with type 1 diabetes. One small study found that people with type 1 diabetes who followed the keto diet for more than two years showed better A1C results and glycemic control. However, these individuals also had higher blood lipids and more low blood sugar episodes. Long-term safety is unknown.
If you’re interested in trying the keto diet and you have type 1 diabetes, start by talking with your doctor. They may refer you to a registered dietitian or nutritionist to help you find a plan that is right for you. You can learn more with this beginner’s guide to the keto diet.
Pregnancy presents unique challenges to people who have type 1 diabetes. However, it’s possible to have a healthy pregnancy and baby despite having the disease. The most important thing to remember if you are expecting or trying to become pregnant and have type 1 diabetes is that everything you do for your body, you do for your baby. Women who have high blood sugar levels have babies with high blood sugar. High blood sugar levels during pregnancy can lead to complications such as a high birth weight, complicated C-sections, preterm birth, low blood sugar, high blood pressure, and even stillbirth. If you have type 1 diabetes and want to become pregnant or find out that you’re pregnant, talk with your doctor immediately. They can discuss any changes you may need to make to guarantee your blood sugar levels remain stable and safe for you and your baby. It’s best to plan ahead for a pregnancy and discuss your diabetes and blood sugar goals with your doctor.
During your pregnancy, you will likely need to see your healthcare provider more frequently. You may also need to adjust medication and insulin throughout the pregnancy. Doctors and patients share their tips for managing pregnancy with diabetes.
For people with type 1 diabetes, alcohol can have a big impact on blood sugar levels in the short term. Over time, excessive alcohol use can contribute to complications of diabetes. The liver is responsible for processing and removing alcohol from the body. The liver is also involved in managing blood sugar levels. If you have type 1 diabetes and drink alcohol, your body slows the management of blood sugar in order to deal with the alcohol. This can lead to low blood sugar, immediately and for up to 12 hours after drinking. It’s important to test your blood sugar before drinking alcohol and to continue to monitor it afterward.
High blood sugar levels can cause damage to various parts of the body. If diabetes isn’t managed properly, it increases the risk of the following complications:
increased heart attack risk
eye problems, including blindness
infections on the skin, especially the feet, that could require amputation in serious cases
Diabetes can damage your nerves and lead to a condition called diabetic neuropathy. This is common in the feet. Small cuts, especially on the bottom of your feet, can quickly turn into severe ulcers and infections, especially if blood sugar levels aren’t controlled. This is because you can’t feel or see the cuts, so you don’t treat them. That is why it’s important to check your feet regularly if you have diabetes. If you happen to notice any foot injuries, let your doctor know right away.
People with type 1 diabetes should also pay attention to other changes to their bodies. Read more about the possible effects diabetes can have on your body.
Exercise can be tricky for people with type 1 diabetes, but it is a vital part of the healthy lifestyle that is important for people with this disease. People who have type 1 diabetes should aim to exercise at least 150 minutes per week. They should also have no more than two consecutive days without exercise. Aerobic exercise is good for people with type 1 diabetes, as are strength training and resistance training. What’s unclear, however, is the best practice for managing blood glucose during exercise. That’s because blood sugar levels can spike or even crash during and after exercise, as your body’s cells begin using insulin or moving glucose more effectively. Still, experts suggest people with diabetes get regular exercise for optimal health. This may require working with your doctor or other expert to find a plan that is right for you. This guide to blood sugar target levels and ranges for insulin may help you get started.
Living with type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease without a cure. However, people with type 1 can live a long and healthy life with proper treatment, like taking insulin, having a healthy diet, and getting exercise. Learn more about managing day-to-day life, symptoms, and preventing complications