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Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease that happens when the pancreas stops making insulin. It usually develops in children and young adults.

Insulin lets sugar (glucose) move from the blood into the body's cells, where it can be used for energy or stored. 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.

Treatment for type 1 diabetes focuses on keeping your blood sugar level in a safe range by eating a balanced diet, taking insulin, and getting regular exercise.

  • What is the 'honeymoon period' of type 1 diabetes?

    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.

    Symptoms include:

    Urinating often.

    This may be more noticeable at night. The kidneys are trying to get rid of the excess sugar in the blood. To do that, they have to get rid of more water. More water means more urine.

    Being very thirsty.

    This happens if you urinate so often that you lose enough water to get dehydrated.

    Losing weight without trying.

    This happens because you are dehydrated. Weight loss may also happen if you are losing all of those sugar calories in your urine instead of using them.

    Increased hunger.

    You feel hungry because your body isn't using all the calories that it can. Many of the calories leave your body in your urine instead.

    Blurry vision.

    When sugar builds up in the lens of your eye, it sucks extra water into your eye. This changes the shape of the lens and blurs your vision.

    Feeling very tired.

    You feel tired for the same reason you feel hungry. Your body isn't using the calories you are eating, and your body isn't getting the energy it needs.

    How do you manage type 1 diabetes during the honeymoon period?

    During this time, keep in close touch with your doctor. Test your blood sugar often, to see if it's rising. Even though you may not need insulin, your doctor may want you to take very small doses of insulin daily throughout the honeymoon period. This may decrease the stress on your pancreas.

  • Symptoms

    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.

    Symptoms include:

    Urinating often.

    This may be more noticeable at night. The kidneys are trying to get rid of the excess sugar in the blood. To do that, they have to get rid of more water. More water means more urine.

    Being very thirsty.

    This happens if you urinate so often that you lose enough water to get dehydrated.

    Losing weight without trying.

    This happens because you are dehydrated. Weight loss may also happen if you are losing all of those sugar calories in your urine instead of using them.

    Increased hunger.

    You feel hungry because your body isn't using all the calories that it can. Many of the calories leave your body in your urine instead.

    Blurry vision.

    When sugar builds up in the lens of your eye, it sucks extra water into your eye. This changes the shape of the lens and blurs your vision.

    Feeling very tired.

    You feel tired for the same reason you feel hungry. Your body isn't using the calories you are eating, and your body isn't getting the energy it needs.

  • Causes

    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. So people who have type 1 diabetes can't make their own insulin.

  • Diagnosis

    How is type 1 diabetes diagnosed?

    If your doctor thinks you might have diabetes, you'll get 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.

  • Treatment

    How is type 1 diabetes treated?

    To treat type 1 diabetes, you need insulin. You can give yourself insulin through an insulin pump, an insulin pen, or a syringe (needle).

    When you have type 1 diabetes, it’s more important than ever to have a healthy lifestyle. Here are other things you can do to stay healthy:

    • Check your blood sugar level often, as advised by your doctor.
    • Eat a balanced diet that spreads carbohydrate evenly throughout the day.
    • Control your blood pressure and cholesterol.
    • Do not smoke. Smoking can make health problems worse. This includes problems you might have with type 1 diabetes. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
    • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Too much alcohol can cause health problems.
    • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
  • Self-care

    How can you care for yourself when you have type 1 diabetes?

    Here are some things you can do to care for yourself:

    • Take your insulin on time and in the right dose.
    • Check and record your blood sugar as often as directed by your doctor. Keep track of any symptoms you have.
    • Eat a healthy diet that spreads carbohydrate throughout the day.
    • Check your feet daily for blisters, cracks, and sores.
    • Get a checkup every 3 to 6 months. Your doctor will tell you how often to come in.
    • Aim for 30 minutes of exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week.
    • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure. Exercise and healthy eating can help. If you have medicine for cholesterol or high blood pressure, take it as directed.
    • If your doctor say it's okay, take a low-dose aspirin every day to help prevent heart attack and stroke.
    • If you smoke, quit. Ask your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines.

    Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.