Understanding type 1 diabetes
What is it?
Type 1 diabetes affects 5 to 10% of people living with diabetes. You may know it as “insulin-dependent diabetes” or “juvenile diabetes.”
Yes, type 1 diabetes requires insulin treatment, and yes, it occurs mostly in children and teenagers. But what many people don’t know is that it can develop at any age, and that it unfortunately cannot be prevented.
Even today, the exact causes of the disease remain unknown. Genetics can play a role, and some environmental factors, such as viruses, can trigger the onset of the disease.
Normally, the pancreas contains beta cells that secrete insulin, the hormone that synthesizes the carbohydrates (sugars) that the body produces or extracts from food. This allows the level of sugar in the blood, also known as “blood glucose,” to remain stable and safe as carbs are converted into energy or stored as fat.
But with type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells to the point where the body no longer receives the insulin it needs. As a result, glucose accumulates in the blood and can cause serious complications—sometimes fatal—if no treatment is undertaken.
What should you watch for?
Several symptoms can point to type 1 diabetes, including unusual thirst, frequent urination, intense hunger, unexplained weight loss, mood changes, weak spells or blurred vision. In any case, only blood tests in a laboratory can confirm the diagnosis, so it’s important to see a health professional as soon as suspicion arises.
How do you manage type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is first treated with insulin administered daily using a syringe, a pen or a pump. Once a diagnosis is made, the physician and the patient work as a team to determine the type of insulin needed (rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, long-acting) as well as the dose and frequency of treatments according to various factors such as age, lifestyle and overall health.
This life-saving treatment has other key components: measuring blood glucose using a glucose meter, establishing a proper diet plan, calculating and spreading out carbohydrates, and exercising, for example.
What are the potential complications?
If it isn’t adequately controlled, type 1 diabetes can bring about consequences such as heart, kidney, eye or mouth disease as well as foot and skin disorders, which is why it should be managed effectively from the outset to prevent such risks.
Type 1 diabetes is incurable, but fortunately, people living with the disease can still lead a long and fulfilling life. The important thing is to take it one day at a time, seek out information, ask for support and find a good action plan so you can go about your daily activities with diabetes without letting it dictate your life.
American Diabetes Association, “Living With Type 1 Diabetes”: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/recently-diagnosed/living-with-type-1-diabetes.html. Accessed January 12, 2017.
American Diabetes Association, “Exercise and Type 1 Diabetes”: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/exercise-and-type-1-diabetes.html?loc=ContentPage-lwt1d. Accessed January 12, 2017.
Canadian Diabetes Association, “Living with Type 1 Diabetes”: https://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/living-with-type-1-diabetes. Accessed January 12, 2017.
Canadian Diabetes Association, “Types of Diabetes”: https://www.diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/types-of-diabetes. Accessed January 12, 2017.
Diabetes Québec, “Type 1 diabetes”: http://www.diabete.qc.ca/en/understand-diabetes/all-about-diabetes/types-of-diabetes/type-1-diabetes. Accessed January 12, 2017.
Mayo Clinic, “Type 1 diabetes”: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/basics/symptoms/con-20019573. Accessed January 12, 2017.
WebMD, “Type 1 Diabetes”: https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-1-diabetes. Accessed January 12, 2017.