Type 1 diabetes, which used to be called insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes, is a chronic disease that destroys the body’s ability to make insulin, a hormone used to break down and store energy (in the form of glucose or “sugar”) from foods. Without insulin, high levels of fat and glucose remain in the bloodstream, which can damage blood vessels and vital organs over time.

Scientists do not know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes, but they believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors are to blame. Diabetes is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system, which normally ignores healthy cells but destroys germs and foreign substances that could cause illness, mistakenly launches an attack on the body itself – in this case destroying insulin producing islet cells in the pancreas. People may develop type 1 diabetes at any age, but it is frequently diagnosed before adulthood. It accounts for about 5%-10% of all diabetes cases, and affects approximately one in every 400 to 500 children in the U.S.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased hunger
  • Frequent skin, bladder or gum infections
  • Irritability
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Slow to heal wounds
  • Extreme unexplained fatigue
     

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.

Although this content is reviewed by Joslin Diabetes Center healthcare professionals it is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition

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