Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2—about 5% of people with diabetes have type 1. Contrary to popular belief, type 1 diabetes is not a childhood disease. It can occurs at any age. In fact, there are more adults who have type 1 diabetes than children, although it was previously known as juvenile diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition in which the immune system is activated to destroy the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. We do not know what causes this auto-immune reaction. Type 1 diabetes has no link with a person’s lifestyle. There is no cure and you can’t prevent it.
Type 1 diabetes is different from type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body stops making insulin. In type 2, the body can’t use insulin the right way. Over time with type 2, the body doesn’t make enough insulin.
What causes type 1 diabetes?
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is not yet known, but we do know it has a strong family link and cannot be prevented. We also know that it has nothing to do with lifestyle, although maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important in helping to manage type 1 diabetes.
At this stage nothing can be done to prevent or cure type 1 diabetes.
What happens to the pancreas?
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach, stops making insulin because the cells that make the insulin have been destroyed by the body’s immune system. Without insulin, the body’s cells cannot turn glucose (sugar), into energy.
People with type 1 diabetes depend on insulin every day of their lives to replace the insulin the body cannot produce. They must test their blood glucose levels several times throughout the day.
Symptoms of undiagnosed type 1 diabetes:
- Being excessively thirsty
- Passing more urine
- Feeling tired and lethargic
- Always feeling hungry
- Having cuts that heal slowly
- Itching, skin infections
- Blurred vision
- Unexplained weight loss
- Mood swings
- Feeling dizzy
- Leg cramps.
These symptoms may occur suddenly. If they occur, see a doctor. Through a simple test, a doctor can find out if they’re the result of type 1 diabetes.
What happens if people with type 1 diabetes don’t receive insulin?
Without insulin the body burns its own fats as a substitute which releases chemical substances in the blood. Without ongoing injections of insulin, the dangerous chemical substances will accumulate and can be life threatening if it is not treated. This is a condition call ketoacidosis.
Symptoms of this problem include:
- Flushed, hot, dry skin.
- Not feeling hungry.
- Belly pain.
- A strong, fruity breath odor.
- Fast and shallow breathing.
- Restlessness, drowsiness, or trouble waking up.
Complications of diabetes
High blood sugar can lead to problems such as:
- Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). This can cause heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
- Diabetic retiopathy. This is a type of eye disease that can lead to vision loss.
- Diabetic nephropathy. This kidney disease has no early symptoms, but it can lead to kidney failure.
- Diabetic neuropathy. This is a nerve disease that can affect your internal organs as well as your ability to sense touch and pain, especially in your feet. It can also cause sexual problems.
How to treat type 1 diabetes?
Treatment for type 1 diabetes focuses on keeping blood sugar levels within a target range and doing things to reduce complications. To control your blood sugar, you:
- Take insulin through daily shots or an insulin pump.
- Eat a healthy diet that spreads carbohydrate throughout the day.
- Check blood sugar levels several times a day.
- Get regular exercise.