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Common Questions About Type 1 Diabetes

Answers to your questions from Joslin Diabetes Center, the world leader in diabetes treatment and research.

What is type 1 diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes (formerly called 'juvenile-onset' or 'insulin-dependent'), the pancreas completely stops producing any insulin, a hormone that enables the body to use glucose (sugar) found in foods for energy. Instead of the body converting glucose into energy, it backs up in the blood stream and causes a variety of symptoms, including fatigue.

Type 1 diabetes is different from type 2 diabetes because it is treatable only with insulin, delivered either via multiple syringe injections subcutaneously (under the skin) or through an insulin pump. Many of the symptoms of type 1 diabetes, however, are also those of type 2. Your doctor will perform a test to determine your pancreatic function and confirm a diagnosis.

What causes type 1 diabetes?

The cause of type 1 diabetes is still unknown, although many have speculated that it is a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors such as viruses that serve as the catalyst for the disease’s onset.

Who gets type 1 diabetes?

You can have type 1 diabetes at any point that your pancreas completely ceases to produce insulin to regulate glucose levels, although most people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are usually children or young adults.

How is type 1 diabetes treated?

Unlike some people with type 2 diabetes who use insulin when diabetes pills have not been effective at regulating their glucose levels, people with type 1 can never use pills. The goal of insulin therapy is to mimic the way the pancreas would produce and distribute its own insulin, if it were able to produce it.

One of the key factors in Joslin’s treatment of diabetes is tight blood glucose control, so be certain that your treatment helps get your blood glucose readings as close to normal as safely possible. Patients should discuss with their doctors what their target blood glucose range is. It is also important to determine what your goal is for A1C readings (a test that determines how well your diabetes is controlled over the past 2-3 months). By maintaining blood glucose in the desired range, you’ll likely avoid many of the complications some people with diabetes face.

What kind of complications are people with diabetes susceptible to?

Blood travels throughout your body, and when too much glucose (sugar) is present in it, it disrupts the normal environment that the organ systems of your body function within. In turn, your body starts to exhibit signs that things are not working properly inside—those are the symptoms of diabetes people experience. If this problem—caused by a variety of factors—is left untreated, it can lead to a number of damaging complications such as heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, and blood vessel disease that may require an amputation, nerve damage, and impotence in men.

The good news is that prevention plays an important role in warding off these complications. By maintaining tight control of your blood glucose, you’ll help your body function as normally as possible. Tight control helps you decrease the chances that your body will experience complications from elevated glucose levels.

Can type 1 diabetes be prevented?

There is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. Despite this fact, you can decrease the chances of diabetic complications by sticking to a diabetes care regimen that includes healthy A1C readings and tight glucose control. At the Joslin Diabetes Center, your healthcare team will help you develop a comprehensive treatment plan that will help you stay as healthy as possible.

If you or a family member have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, check out Joslin's Pediatric Health Services.

Page last updated: July 31, 2014