Understanding type 1 diabetes
What is it?
Known as “insulin-dependent diabetes” or “juvenile diabetes", type 1 diabetes affects 5% to 10% of people living with diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes requires immediate insulin treatment and occurs mostly in children and teenagers. 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 metabolize the carbohydrates (sugars) that the body produces or extracts from food. This allows the level of sugar in the blood, also known as “glycemia”, to remain stable and safe as carbs are converted into energy or stored as fat.
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 healthcare 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 healthcare professional 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.
What are the potential complications?
If it is not adequately treated, 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 live 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 (n.d). Type 1 Overview. Retrieved from: https://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/recently-diagnosed/living-with-type-1-diabetes.html. Accessed July 13 2021.
American Diabetes Association (n.d). Exercise and Type 1 Diabetes. Retrieved from: https://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/exercise-and-type-1-diabetes.html?loc=ContentPage-lwt1d. Accessed July 13 2021.
Canadian Diabetes Association (n.d). Type 1 Diabetes. Retrieved from: https://www.diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/type-1. Accessed July 13 2021.
Canadian Diabetes Association (n.d). What is Diabetes? Retrieved from: https://www.diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/types-of-diabetes. Accessed July 13 2021.
Diabetes Québec (2020). Type 1 diabetes. Retrieved from: http://www.diabete.qc.ca/en/understand-diabetes/all-about-diabetes/types-of-diabetes/type-1-diabetes/. Accessed July 13 2021.
Mayo Clinic (2020). Type 1 diabetes. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/basics/symptoms/con-20019573. Accessed July 13 2021.
WebMD (n.d). Type 1 Diabetes. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-1-diabetes. Accessed July 13 2021.
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