Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease. In people with type 1 diabetes, cells in the pancreas that make insulin are destroyed, so the body is unable to make insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that helps your body’s cells use glucose (sugar) for energy. Your body gets glucose from the food you eat. Insulin allows the glucose to pass from your blood into your body’s cells.
When the cells have enough, your liver and muscle tissues store the extra glucose in the form of glycogen. It’s broken down into blood sugar and released when you need energy between meals, during exercise, or while you sleep.
With type 1 diabetes, your body is unable to process glucose due to the lack of insulin.
Glucose from your food can’t make its way into your cells. This leaves too much glucose circulating in your blood. High blood sugar levels can lead to both short- and long-term problems.
The following are symptoms of type 1 diabetes:
- excessive hunger
- excessive thirst
- blurred vision
- frequent urination
- dramatic weight loss in a short period of time
There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. They have similar symptoms and over time, they can lead to many of the same complications. However, they are very different diseases.
Type 1 diabetes is the result of a person’s body not producing insulin on its own. Taking insulin is necessary for survival, to move glucose from the bloodstream into the body’s cells.
For people with type 2 diabetes, the cells have stopped responding well to insulin. The body struggles to move glucose from the blood into the cells, despite having adequate levels of the hormone. Eventually, their bodies may stop making adequate insulin entirely.
Type 1 diabetes develops very quickly and symptoms are obvious. For people with type 2 diabetes, the condition can develop over many years. In fact, a person with type 2 diabetes may not know they have it until they have a complication.
The two types of diabetes are caused by different things. They also have unique risk factors.
Read about similarities and differences between the types of diabetes.
Researchers don’t know the exact cause of type 1 diabetes.
It is thought to be an autoimmune reaction, in which the body attacks the cells in the pancreas that make insulin by mistake, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source. But scientists don’t fully understand why this happens.
Some people may be predisposed to develop the condition due to genetics, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Other people may get it due to environmental factors, such as diet. Viruses may also play a part. Sometimes a combination of these factors will trigger the condition.
Risk factors for type 1 diabetes are poorly understood. In many ways, they are similar to causes of diabetes.
This is because the factors that may trigger type 1 diabetes for some people may not trigger it for others.
Researchers have identified some potential risk factors:
Race may be a risk factor for type 1 diabetes. People who are white may have more genetic predisposition to type 1 diabetes, since the condition is more common in this group.
Some viruses may trigger type 1 diabetes as well. It’s unclear which ones might do this, however.
Likewise, people from cold climates are more likely to have type 1 diabetes. Doctors also diagnose more cases of type 1 in winter than they do in summer.
Several other components may influence who develops type 1 diabetes.
Read about these possible risk factors and the research underway to better understand why some people develop the disease.
Researchers don’t understand exactly what causes type 1 diabetes. However, they believe that your genes may play a role, both in terms of the genes you inherit and your family’s history of diabetes.
People who have type 1 diabetes are born with a greater likelihood of developing the disease. It does appear to be passed down through generations of a family. It’s unclear how the pattern works and why some people in a family will develop diabetes while others will not.
Researchers have identified certain gene variants that may increase a person’s risk. These variants can be shared between parent and child, generation after generation. However, not everyone who has these genes develops type 1 diabetes.
That’s why researchers believe genes are only one part of the equation. They think something triggers the condition in people who have the inherited genes. A virus is one suspected trigger.
For example, identical twins, who have all the same genes, may not both develop the condition. If one twin has type 1 diabetes, the other twin develops the condition half of the time or less. This suggests that genes aren’t the only factor.
If you receive a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, your body can’t make its own insulin. You’ll need to take insulin to help your body use the sugar in your blood.
Other treatments may also hold some promise for controlling symptoms of type 1 diabetes.
People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day. You usually take the insulin through an injection.
Some people use an insulin pump. The pump injects insulin through a port in the skin. This can be easier for some people than sticking themselves with a needle. It may also help level out blood sugar highs and lows.
The amount of insulin you need varies throughout the day. People with type 1 diabetes regularly test their blood sugar to figure out how much insulin they need. Both diet and exercise can affect blood sugar levels.
Several insulin types exist. Your doctor may have you try more than one to find what works best for you.
Read about the differences in insulin and how it’s administered.
Metformin is a type of oral diabetes medication. For many years, it was approved only for people with type 2 diabetes.
However, some people with type 1 diabetes can develop insulin resistance. That means the insulin they get from injections doesn’t work as well as it should. These days, doctors sometimes prescribe Metformin for type 1 patients.
Metformin helps lower sugar in the blood by reducing sugar production in the liver. Your doctor may advise you to take Metformin in addition to insulin.
The tuberculosis vaccine may possibly have some benefit as a treatment for people with type 1 diabetes but the data is very limited.
One 2012 study found that the bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) may have some impact on the autoimmune response that may be triggering type 1 diabetes. Since then, there’s been more research into the BCG vaccine and its potential use as a treatment tool for diabetes and other conditions.
The evidence for the vaccine’s use in diabetes remains controversial, though. A 2018 study suggests some promise, but at least one 2020 study does not.
There is a new oral medication for people with type 1 diabetes. This drug will be the first oral medication designed to be used alongside insulin in people with type 1 diabetes, according to a 2019 research review.
It works to lower glucose levels in the blood by forcing the body to expel it in urine and by reducing glucose absorption in the gut. Similar medications already exist for people with type 2 diabetes, but none are approved for people with type 1.
Healthcare professionals usually diagnose type 1 diabetes through a series of tests. Some can be conducted quickly, while others require hours of preparation or monitoring.
Type 1 diabetes often develops quickly. According to the CDC, a healthcare professional can make a diabetes diagnosis if:
- Fasting blood sugar is greater than 126 mg/dL on two separate tests.
- Random blood sugar is greater than 200 mg/dL, along with symptoms of diabetes.
- Hemoglobin A1c is greater than 6.5 on two separate tests.
Doctors also use the same criteria to diagnose type 2 diabetes. In fact, people with type 1 diabetes are sometimes misdiagnosed as having type 2.
A doctor may not realize you’ve been misdiagnosed until you begin developing complications or worsening symptoms despite treatment.
When blood sugar gets so high that diabetic ketoacidosis occurs, you become very ill. This is often the reason people end up in the hospital or their doctor’s office, and type 1 diabetes is then diagnosed.
If you have any of the symptoms of diabetes, your doctor will likely order tests.
The two most common complications are hypoglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis.
Hypoglycemia happens when your blood sugar is too low, usually when your body has too much insulin. It can happen if you wait too long to eat or have a snack, or if you exercise too much.
Ketoacidosis can be a life threatening condition. This when your body doesn’t have enough insulin. Symptoms of this condition include:
- rapid breathing
- dry skin and mouth
- flushed face
- fruity breath odor
- vomiting or stomach pain
In addition, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to various parts of the body. Symptoms can include:
- increased heart attack risk
- eye problems, including blindness
- nerve damage
- infections on the skin, especially the feet, that could require amputation in serious cases
- kidney damage
Diabetes can also damage your nerves and lead to a condition called diabetic neuropathy. This is common in the feet.
Small cuts, especially on the bottom of your feet, can quickly turn into severe ulcers and infections, especially if blood sugar levels aren’t controlled. This is because you can’t feel or see the cuts, so you don’t treat them.
That is why it’s important to check your feet regularly if you have diabetes. If you happen to notice any foot injuries, let your doctor know right away.
Type 1 diabetes in children
Type 1 diabetes was once known as juvenile diabetes. That is because it’s frequently diagnosed in children and young adults. By comparison, type 2 diabetes is typically diagnosed in older adults. However, both types can be diagnosed at almost any age.
According to a 2015 self-reported study, symptoms of diabetes in children include:
- weight loss
- wetting the bed or urinating more often
- feeling weak or fatigued
- being hungry or thirsty more often
- mood changes
- blurred vision
As in adults, children with type 1 diabetes are treated with insulin.
The first generation of an artificial pancreas has been recently approved for use in children. This device is inserted under the skin. Then, it measures blood sugar continuously, automatically releasing the right amount of insulin as needed.
Most children still use manual methods for insulin injections and glucose monitoring. In young children especially, this requires a lot of work by parents to keep them safe and healthy.
Children with type 1 diabetes can and do live healthy, fulfilling lives.
Get answers to questions about how children with diabetes can eat, play, and stay healthy.
Currently, more than 1.6 million Americans are living with type 1 diabetes, including about 187,000 children and adolescents.
Diabetes (type 1 and type 2) is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, according to the CDC. About 5 to 10 percent of the people who have diabetes have type 1.
Properly managing the condition can help reduce complications and prolong life expectancy.
Diabetes is a condition that affects people worldwide. Read more about where and how often it occurs.
The ketogenic (keto) diet has shown some benefits for people with type 2 diabetes.
The high fat, low carb diet may help manage blood sugar levels, according to 2018 research. It can even lead to weight loss, a goal for many people with type 2.
For type 1 diabetes, however, the keto diet hasn’t been well-studied. To date, the general dietary recommendation for this type of diabetes is a low carb diet. However, researchers are looking at the possible benefits and safety of a diet that restricts carbs even more for people with type 1 diabetes.
One small study found that people with type 1 diabetes who followed the keto diet for more than 2 years showed better A1C results and glycemic control. However, these individuals also had higher blood lipids and more low blood sugar episodes. Long-term safety is unknown.
Pregnancy presents unique challenges for people who have type 1 diabetes. However, it’s possible to have a healthy pregnancy and baby despite having this condition.
The most important thing to remember if you are expecting or trying to become pregnant and have type 1 diabetes is that everything you do for your body, you do for your baby. People who have high blood sugar levels have babies with high blood sugar.
According to the CDCe, high blood sugar levels during pregnancy can lead to complications such as:
- a high birth weight
- complicated cesarean delivery, commonly referred to as a C-section
- preterm birth
- low blood sugar
- high blood pressure
If you have type 1 diabetes and want to become pregnant or find out that you’re pregnant, talk with your doctor immediately. They can discuss any changes you may need to make to guarantee your blood sugar levels remain stable and safe for you and your baby.
It’s best to plan ahead for a pregnancy and discuss your diabetes and blood sugar goals with your doctor.
Doctors and patients share their tips for managing pregnancy with diabetes.
For people with type 1 diabetes, alcohol can have a big impact on blood sugar levels in the short term. Over time, excessive alcohol use can contribute to complications of diabetes.
The liver is responsible for processing and removing alcohol from the body. The liver is also involved in managing blood sugar levels. If you have type 1 diabetes and drink alcohol, your body slows the management of blood sugar in order to deal with the alcohol.
This can lead to low blood sugar, immediately and for several hours after drinking. It’s important to test your blood sugar before drinking alcohol and to continue to monitor it afterward.
Living with type 1 diabetes means maintaining consistent lifestyle strategies that include both a change to your diet and a safe exercise routine.
Try to eat regular meals and snacks to keep your blood sugar stable. If you have access to one, a dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator can help you establish an eating plan.
Some tips to consider when developing your nutrition plan include:
- Eat a balanced diet that includes vegetables, nonfat dairy, lean meats, plant proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, and fruits.
- Eat small meals. It’s better to eat more often in smaller portions and space your meals evenly throughout the day to keep your glucose level from spiking.
- Never skip meals.
Exercise helps lower your blood sugar levels, and it is a vital part of the balanced lifestyle important for anyone with type 1 diabetes.
But, exercise can also be tricky for people with this condition. This is because your insulin amounts need to be adjusted according to your level of exercise.
Try to aim to exercise at least 150 minutes per week. Also, try to have no more than 2 consecutive days without exercise. Aerobic exercise is good for people with type 1 diabetes, as are strength training and resistance training.
What’s unclear, however, is the best practice for managing blood glucose during exercise. That’s because blood sugar levels can spike or even crash during and after exercise, as your body’s cells begin using insulin or moving glucose more effectively.
Still, experts suggest people with diabetes get regular exercise for optimal health. This may require working with your doctor or other expert to find a plan that is right for you.
This guide to blood sugar target levels and ranges for insulin may help you get started.
Type 1 diabetes is a condition that causes the body to be unable to process glucose due to a lack of insulin.
The cause is likely an autoimmune process. Experts believe it is influenced by genetics and environmental factors, and possibly by viral infections.
Type 1 diabetes is a different disease than type 2 diabetes.
But just like with the other form of diabetes, you can typically manage it with insulin, medications, and a balanced diet and exercise routine.
It’s important to consult with a doctor and to monitor your glucose regularly, as well as to be aware of potential complications and their symptoms.