What is Type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes (also known as T1D, juvenile diabetes, and insulin dependent diabetes) is a disease in which the body produces little or no insulin. The onset of Type 1 diabetes most commonly occurs during childhood or early adulthood, but can occur during any stage of life. Type 1 diabetes is caused by the autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body convert glucose (blood sugar) into energy. When insulin is not present, glucose levels in the blood rise quickly and the body is forced to breakdown fat for energy. When fat cells get broken down they produce acid byproducts called ketones. If ketones are allowed to build up in the blood stream, a potentially fatal condition, known as acidosis can occur.

At the onset of Type 1 diabetes, the glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream will rise and there will likely be glucose and ketones present in the urine. Type 1 diabetes typically has a rapid onset with symptoms including polydipsia (excessive thirst), polyphagia (excessive hunger), polyuria (excessive urination), weight loss, fatigue, blurry vision, sweet smelling breath and urine, tingling in the feet and hands, flu-like symptoms, and adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder).

Type 1 diabetes is treated with lifelong insulin injections and frequent monitoring of blood glucose levels. There are many types of insulin used to treat Type 1 diabetes including: rapid-acting insulin, long-acting insulin, and intermediate options. Insulin can be administered using a fine needle and syringe, an insulin pen, or an insulin pump. A person on insulin therapy must monitor their blood glucose levels frequently using a glucose meter and test strips or by using a continuous glucose monitor to ensure they are staying within their target range.

The major drawback to insulin therapy is the risk of developing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Hypoglycemia occurs when the levels of glucose in the blood drop too low. There are several potential causes for hypoglycemia, including missing a meal, injecting too much insulin, or getting more physical activity than normal. Early symptoms of hypoglycemia include: sweating, shakiness, hunger, weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness, anxiety, pale skin, rapid or irregular heart rate, fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, and irritability. If hypoglycemia is not corrected a person may develop lethargy, confusion, behavior changes, poor coordination, and convulsions.

There is currently no cure for Type 1 diabetes. There have been successful pancreatic and islet cell transplants, but the procedures pose serious risks and are typically reserved only for those with very difficult-to-control diabetes. Pancreatic and islet cell transplants also require a lifetime of potent immune-suppressing drugs to prevent organ rejection. Organizations like the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) have been a driving force behind finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes. JDRF increases awareness about diabetes and helps fund research that will hopefully one day provide a cure.

Sources:
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2013, January 23). Type i diabetes. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/type-1-diabetes/DS00329/DSECTION=symptoms
Cihakova, D. (2001, September 10). Type 1 diabetes mellitus. Retrieved from http://autoimmune.pathology.jhmi.edu/diseases.cfm?systemID=3&DiseaseID=23
Mosby Inc., 2007 , Linne & Ringsrud’s Clinical Laboratory Science: The Basics and Routine Techniques 5th Edition, Mary Louise Turgeon
Cooke DW, Plotnick L (November 2008). “Type 1 diabetes mellitus in pediatrics”. Pediatr Rev 29 (11): 374–84

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