Home > Health & Wellness > Health Library > Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a disease that starts 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. Over time, high blood sugar can harm many parts of the body, such as the 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 with treatment and a healthy lifestyle, you can live a long and healthy life.
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.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include urinating often, being very thirsty, losing weight without trying, being hungrier than usual, and having blurry vision. Symptoms 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.
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.
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'll take insulin, make healthy food choices, check blood sugar levels several times a day, and get regular exercise.
You can help prevent or delay complications by keeping your blood sugar in a target range. You also need regular medical checkups to look for early signs of complications. If complications are treated early, the damage may be stopped, slowed, or possibly reversed.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Risk factors are things that increase your chances of getting sick or having a problem. Risk factors for type 1 diabetes include:
Having type 1 diabetes in your family increases the chance that you have 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 definitely have the disease.
People who have both 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.
Currently there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. But studies are looking into ways to prevent it in those who are most likely to get it. If you have a parent, brother, or sister with type 1 diabetes, and you're willing to take part in a study, talk to your doctor.
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.
This may be more noticeable at night.
This happens if you urinate so often that you get dehydrated.
This happens because your body isn't able to get energy from sugar. Your body uses muscle and fat for energy.
Your body isn't using all the calories that it can. Many calories leave your body in your urine.
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.
Your body isn't using the calories you are eating, and your body isn't getting the energy it needs.
You have most symptoms of type 1 diabetes when your blood sugar is either too high or too low.
Common symptoms of high blood sugar include:
Common symptoms of low blood sugar include:
If you wait too long to get medical care when your blood sugar goes too high, you may develop diabetic ketoacidosis. Symptoms include:
Over time, high blood sugar can lead to serious problems. It can:
That's why it's important to keep your blood sugar within a target range.
A more sudden problem can happen when the blood sugar level gets so high that a serious chemical imbalance develops in the blood. This condition can be life-threatening and needs quick treatment.
When people hear the word "diabetes," they often think of problems like these. But daily care and treatment can help prevent or delay these problems. The goal is to keep your blood sugar in a target range. It's the best way to reduce your chance of having more problems from diabetes.
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:
Call a doctor now if:
Check with your doctor if:
If you are planning to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about making sure that your blood sugar is well-managed.
High blood sugar levels during the first trimester of pregnancy raise the risk of birth defects. Good care of diabetes before conception appears to reduce the risk of birth defects.
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.
Tests you may have include:
This shows whether your blood sugar has been staying within your target range.
High blood pressure can damage nerves and blood vessels.
High cholesterol raises the risk for heart attack and stroke.
This checks for protein in the urine, a sign of kidney damage.
This shows how well your kidneys are working.
The doctor checks for foot sores and loss of sensation.
The dentist checks for gum disease and tooth decay.
This checks for damage to the back of the eye (diabetic retinopathy).
This checks for thyroid disease.
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:
Blood sugar levels are easier to manage when mealtimes, amount of food, and exercise are similar every day.
You may need medicine to treat other health problems, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. This may help prevent problems from diabetes.
Here are some things you can do to care for yourself:
Insulin helps keep your blood sugar level within a target range. It can be taken as a shot (injection) or through an insulin pump. Rapid-acting insulin is also available as a powder that you inhale.
Most people who have type 1 diabetes take a combination of types of insulin. For instance, they may take a long-acting insulin once or twice a day and a rapid-acting insulin before each meal. The amount and type of insulin needed varies for each person.
Never skip a dose of insulin without the advice of your doctor.
Surgery may be an option for certain people who have type 1 diabetes. Choices may include:
When insulin isn't enough to keep blood sugar in your target range, a pancreas transplant might be an option. If it's successful, you may no longer have symptoms or need to treat diabetes. But you may still get complications from diabetes. And you must take medicine to keep your body from rejecting the new organ.
This involves inserting a small group of donated pancreas cells (islet cells) through a vein in your liver. After surgery, these cells start to make insulin. If they can make enough, you may no longer need insulin injections. But you must take medicine to prevent rejection.
Finding the right support can take a little time and effort. But it can be worth it. You'll feel more connected to others, and that connection can really help you manage your diabetes.
For example, if you want to be more active, try to spend time with people who also want to be more active.
Support groups aren't for everyone. But they can be a great source of connection and inspiration.
You may have to help others know how they can help.
You may want to take a little time to write down your answers to these questions.
Current as of:
April 13, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineDavid C.W. Lau MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
Current as of: April 13, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & David C.W. Lau MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.