Sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a less common form of diabetes.
It’s also referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes since the condition occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin, which is a hormone the body naturally produces to control blood sugar levels.
While there is no cure for this autoimmune disease, it can be successfully managed with insulin and proactive diet and lifestyle adjustments.
The Immune System Turns Against Beta Cells and Attacks Them
Insulin is also what keeps glucose (blood sugar) levels from getting too high or too low. Since sugar isn’t directly absorbed by cells, blood sugar levels rise after food is consumed.
The pancreas releases beta cells into the bloodstream to help with the absorption of blood sugar to keep levels in check. With type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the beta cells that normally help regulate blood sugar levels.
Why Does the Immune System Sometimes Attack Beta Cells?
The exact reason why the immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells isn’t yet fully understood.
However, there are several possible contributing factors, including exposure to certain environmental factors and genetics.
It’s believed that certain viruses sometimes attack beta cells and trigger a response from the immune system in which the healthy cells are mistakenly attacked instead of the ones affected by the virus.
Having a Family History of Type 1 Diabetes
According to the American Diabetes Association, only 5 percent of people who have diabetes have T1D. It affects children and adults, so anyone can get it.
Individuals with a family member who has type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop the condition since genetics is a risk factor associated with diabetes.
Being Within a Certain Age Range
Type 1 diabetes may develop at all age. Statistically, however, there are two peak age ranges or periods of time during childhood development when the condition is more likely to appear.
The first peak period is from 4 to 7 years of age, and the other one is from 10 to 14 years of age. Oddly, cases of T1D also tend to be seen with greater frequency the more individuals travel away from the equator (the Vitamin D Council also suggests a link between longitude and type 1 diabetes).
Insufficient Insulin Production
The main characteristic of type 1 diabetes is an inability to produce a sufficient amount of insulin. By why is insulin important?
According to Endocrine Web, insulin is an essential hormone produced by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar from carbohydrates for energy. Insulin also helps with the process of storing energy for use later.
If your blood sugar levels are too high, insulin will help store some of it until it’s needed later. When your glucose levels are low when you are between meals or after physical activities such as strenuous exercise, insulin hormones play a role in getting blood sugar levels back to normal.
With type 1 diabetes, the pancreas isn’t able to produce enough insulin to manage blood sugar levels because beta cells located in the pancreas are either damaged or destroyed.
What Are Symptoms Associated with T1D?
Symptoms associated with type 1 diabetes may appear suddenly rather than slowly and with increased severity like what’s often experienced with type 2 diabetes.
Initial symptoms sometimes include frequent urination, increased thirst, general weakness and increased fatigue, unexplained weight loss or mood changes, blurry vision, and extreme hunger. Children with T1D may suddenly begin to develop issues with bedwetting.
What Are Some Early Signs of Type 1 Diabetes?
When the immune system starts to attack beta cells, there are biochemical signs this happening before typical symptoms associated with type 1 diabetes appear.
According to JDRF.org, early signs of T1D may include dry mouth, itchy skin, slow healing cuts and sores, and yeast infections due to yeast feeding on blood sugar. As more beta cells are damaged, symptoms become increasingly noticeable.
How Is T1D Diagnosed?
A glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test is among the common tests performed to make a positive diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, according to MayoClinic.org. An A1C shows blood sugar levels for the past three months, which serves as a better indicator to determine if there is a pattern of irregular glucose levels.
Random blood sugar tests and a fasting blood sugar test to check for autoantibodies associated with T1D and a urine test to look for byproducts of the breakdown of fat known as ketones may also be done to confirm that a patient has type 1 diabetes.
What Happens After Diagnosis?
After being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you’ll visit your regular doctor periodically to track your progress with the condition.
Visits usually include a check of A1C levels and a blood test to monitor blood sugar levels. According to EverydayHealth.com and the American Diabetes Association, a normal or desirable A1C level is below 7 percent, which is equal to a blood sugar level of 154 mg/dL.
Post-diagnosis care may also include urine and cholesterol testing along with occasional testing to monitor thyroid, liver, and kidney functions.
What Are Possible Treatment Options for Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is often treated with regular injections of synthetic insulin. The specific number of injections required will vary based on blood sugar readings from self-test results.
In addition to frequent glucose testing, regular monitoring may also extend to carbohydrate, fat, and protein counting.
Blood Sugar Goals for Type 1 Diabetics
The American Diabetes Association recommends that type 1 diabetics strive for pre-meal blood sugar goals around 80–130 mg/dL and levels around Less than 180 mg/dL after meals.
There are certain foods or level of captivity that will occasionally cause blood sugar levels to be too high or too low.
While variations with glucose readings are normal and not always cause for concerns, consistent levels that are outside of the normal range should be brought to your doctor’s attention.
Who Should Check Blood Sugar Levels?
All diabetics should monitor blood sugar levels to some extend, although more frequent monitoring is recommended for type 1 diabetics taking insulin. Pregnant women with T1D should also check blood glucose regularly.
Frequent monitoring is also suggested for diabetics with ketones related to high sugar levels or with consistently low blood sugar levels without the usual warning signs that levels are low and those who are having difficulty controlling glucose levels.
Types of Insulin Type 1 Diabetics May Need
Every type 1 diabetic will need insulin therapy for the duration of their life. There are different types of insulin that may be recommended to keep your blood sugar levels within an acceptable range.
Regular insulin that is short-acting (Humulin R and Novolin R) and will need to be administered again when there are signs that glucose levels are either too high or too low.
Administered with an injection or via an insulin pump, insulin may also be rapid-acting in nature in the form of glulisine (Apidra), insulin lispro (Humalog), or insulin aspart (Novolog).
This type of insulin is usually recommended for patients prone to sudden blood sugar drops or spikes. Insulin can also be intermediate (Novolin N, Humulin N) or long-acting (Lantus, Toujeo Solostar).
Other Medications That May Help Type 1 Diabetics
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) are types of high blood pressure medication that may be prescribed for type 1 diabetics to keep kidneys healthy.
Taking baby aspirin daily can protect the heart. Cholesterol-lowering drugs may be prescribed to reduce LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels.
How Can Exercise Help Type 1 Diabetics Maintain Blood Sugar Levels?
Endocrine Web is among several sources pointing out that regular exercise can benefit type 1 diabetics.
Exercise naturally increases insulin levels, so type 1 diabetics often find it easier to process carbohydrates following a period of activity.
Generally, exercises that are typically suggested for type 1 diabetics involve aerobic activities, strength training exercises, and exercises that promote flexibility.
What are Potential Complications Are Associated with T1D?
Insulin therapy will keep type 1 diabetics alive and may prevent serious spikes in blood sugar levels. However, it is not a cure nor will it eliminate the possibility of experiencing complications at some point.
According to WebMD, complications commonly associated with type 1 diabetes include nerve damage (neuropathy), heart disease and stroke, foot problems, high blood pressure, skin infections, gum disease, and certain eye diseases such as retinopathy.
Just Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes?
Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes can be scary. However, as this video presenting the facts on type 1 diabetes in the words of people living with the condition shows, the disease is manageable both physically and emotionally.
This video is also useful for newly diagnosed T1D patients because it does a good a job at dispelling common myths associated with diabetes and emphasizes the fact that it’s possible to live an active and productive life with type 1 diabetes.
Expected to affect about 5 million by 2050 according to estimates by JDRF, Type 1 diabetes became known as juvenile diabetes since it usually appears during childhood or adolescence, although the disease may also develop later in life.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, T1D is not brought on by excess weight. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable and insulin will not cure it, although it is entirely possible to manage the condition effectively.