Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the pancreas produces very little insulin or no insulin at all. Most often developing in adolescence, a type 1 diabetic can begin to experience diabetes symptoms at any age.
Insulin is a hormone that acts as a key to allow glucose, a simple sugar, to move from the bloodstream to the body’s cells and provide them with essential energy. Without insulin, glucose remains in the blood. Left untreated, high blood glucose levels can lead to severe health problems, including type 1 diabetes.
What Causes Diabetes Type 1?
Type 1 diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakes pancreatic islet (insulin producing) cells as harmful invaders and destroy them. After destroying these cells, the body produces little or no insulin. Caucasians are more likely to develop this condition than other ethnic groups.
In addition to genetic predisposition, however, scientists believe certain environmental triggers play a role in type 1 diabetes. These include:
- Cold weather: A type 1 diabetic is more likely to live in a cold climate rather than a warmer area. Diabetes type 1 also appears more often in winter than summertime.
- Early life diet: Those who were breastfed, and began eating solid food at a later age are less likely to develop diabetes type 1.
- Viruses: Certain antibodies have been found in the blood of many people who show type 1 diabetes symptoms.
Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms
The high blood glucose levels caused by type 1 diabetes produce classic symptoms that can alert you to see your doctor for a diabetic screening. Here are some of the most common type 1 diabetes symptoms:
- Blurred vision: High blood sugar levels pull fluid from the lenses of the eyes, affecting the ability of a type 1 diabetic to see clearly.
- Extreme hunger: Since insulin is unable to move glucose from your blood to your cells in diabetes type 1, muscles and organs are starved for energy, causing persistent hunger.
- Fatigue: Because cells aren’t getting the sugar they need, a type 1 diabetic can become tired and cranky.
- Increased thirst and urination: When sugar builds up in the blood, fluid is pulled from the body’s tissues. This leads to increased thirst, and increased fluid intake leads to frequent trips to the restroom.
- Weight loss: When cells don’t get the fuel they need from sugar, they may shrink, causing a type 1 diabetic to lose weight.
Treating Diabetes Type 1
In order to treat type 1 diabetes symptoms, you should manage blood sugar levels to keep them as close to normal as possible and prevent complications. Doctors usually aim to keep patients’ blood sugar levels between 80 and 120 mg/dl during the day and between 100 and 140 mg/dl at bedtime.
Every type 1 diabetic must take insulin to survive, and monitor her blood sugar levels frequently. In addition to insulin, your doctor may prescribe other medications, including:
- Aspirin (low-dose)
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- High blood pressure medications
In addition to medication, type 1 diabetics need to make lifestyle adjustments to stay as healthy as possible. These include maintaining:
- A healthy diet, usually involving counting carbohydrates or an exchange system
- A healthy weight
- A regular exercise program.
American Diabetes Association. (2010). Genetics of diabetes. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/genetics-of-diabetes.html.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Type 1 diabetes. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/type-1-diabetes/DS00329.