Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease that happens when the pancreas stops making enough of a hormone called insulin.
Insulin helps your body use sugar from your food as energy or store it for later use. If you don’t have insulin, too much sugar stays in your blood. Without insulin, sugar can't get into the cells and your blood sugar gets too high. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to problems with your eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves and kidneys.
Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but it usually starts in children or young adults. It's a lifelong disease, but you can live a long and healthy life with treatment and a healthy lifestyle.
What are the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes?
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes are caused by high blood sugar. They usually develop quickly, over a few days to weeks. At first, symptoms may be overlooked or mistaken for another illness, like the flu.
- Urinating often. This may be more noticeable at night.
- Being very thirsty. This happens if you urinate so often that you get dehydrated.
- Losing weight without trying. This happens because your body isn’t able to get energy from sugar. Your body uses muscle and fat for energy.
- Increased hunger. Your body isn’t using all the calories that it can. Many calories leave your body in your urine.
- Blurry vision. When sugar builds up in the lens of your eye, it draws extra water into your eye. This changes the shape of the lens and blurs your vision.
- Feeling very tired. Your body can’t use the calories you are eating, and your body isn't getting the energy it needs.
What causes type 1 diabetes?
The body makes insulin in beta cells, which are in a part of the pancreas called the islet (say "EYE-let") tissue. Type 1 diabetes starts because the body's immune system destroys those beta cells. People who have type 1 diabetes can't make their own insulin.
Certain risk factors increase your chances of developing type 1 diabetes.
- Family history.
- Having type 1 diabetes in your family increases the chance of having autoantibodies such as islet cell antibodies. These antibodies attack the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. But a family history of type 1 diabetes doesn’t mean that you will develop the disease.
- Presence of autoantibodies in the blood.
- People who have a family history of type 1 diabetes and two or more autoantibodies in their blood are likely to get type 1 diabetes. If you have family members with type 1 diabetes, you can be tested to see if you have autoantibodies.
- White people have a greater risk for type 1 diabetes than Black, Asian, or Hispanic people.
How is type 1 diabetes diagnosed?
If your doctor thinks you might have diabetes, you will complete blood tests to measure how much sugar is in your blood. Your doctor will ask about your past health and do a physical exam. The doctor will use your blood test results and the American Diabetes Association criteria to diagnose diabetes.
Some people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes because they have symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis.
It may be hard to tell what type of diabetes you have. If so, your doctor may do a C-peptide test or test for autoantibodies to diagnose type 1 diabetes or a slowly developing form of type 1 diabetes called latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA). Some rare forms of diabetes are caused by a genetic problem. You may need genetic testing to diagnose them. This includes maturity onset diabetes of the young (MODY). There are many types of MODY, depending on the gene that is affected.
How is type 1 diabetes treated?
Treatment for type 1 diabetes focuses on keeping blood sugar levels within a target range. This will help prevent problems from diabetes such as eye, kidney, heart, and nerve disease.
To manage type 1 diabetes, you'll:
- Take insulin every day. You may give it through an insulin pump or a syringe (needle).
- Check your blood sugar levels often.
- Make healthy food choices.
- Get regular physical activity. Exercise helps the body to use insulin more efficiently.
- Get regular medical checkups and routine screenings and exams to watch for signs of problems.
- Avoid smoking.
Blood sugar levels are easier to manage when mealtimes, amount of food and exercise are similar every day.
You may also need medication to treat other health problems, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.