Type 1 Diabetes - What It Means

What Does Type 1 Diabetes Mean? Definition and Overview

Little boy with diabetes on his mother's lap.
Fertnig/E+/Getty Images

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a completely different disease from type 2 diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Scientists believe that there may be a virus that triggers the immune system to attack the cells and permanently destroy them. The pancreas can no longer make the insulin necessary to transport sugar from the blood into the other cells of the body for energy.

Sugar builds up in the blood and over time can damage internal organs and blood vessels.

Insulin and Blood Sugar

What does this mean to the person who is diagnosed? When you have Type 1 diabetes, you must take insulin every day to survive. It becomes a delicate balance of finding the right amount of insulin necessary to keep the blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. You must check your blood sugar levels often and then inject yourself with the correct amount of insulin to counteract the amount of sugar. This mimics the action of a normal pancreas.

Warning Signs for Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes typically strikes children and young adults, although adults age 40 and older, can get adult onset type 1. The onset of the disease happens quickly. As insulin stops being produced and the blood sugar rises, this causes hyperglycemia. Several warning signs appear. Increased thirst, increased urination, fatigue, weight loss and blurred vision are a few of the most noticeable signs of type 1 diabetes.

Testing Blood Sugar in Type 1 Diabetes

Frequently testing blood sugar levels helps you know how much insulin you will need to keep your levels as near to normal as possible. The usual times to test are: before meals, before bedtime and maybe one to two hours after meals or a big snack. You must also test before you exercise because exercise will lower blood sugar and you don't want your blood sugar to drop too low.

Low blood glucose is called hypoglycemia.

When and What to Eat with Type 1 Diabetes

When you eat is as important as what you eat. Eating meals that are approximately the same size and combination of carbohydrates and fats at the same time every day helps to keep blood sugar regular and predictable. The best diet is one that is low in fat, low in salt and low in added sugars. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables are preferable over simple carbohydrates like sugary soft drinks and candy.

Living a Healthy Life with Type 1 Diabetes

Until the 1920's, when insulin was first discovered, people usually died from type 1 diabetes. Today with all the advances in medicine that are available, a person diagnosed with type 1 diabetes can live a very normal, long life.

There are many adjustments that you will need to make and skills that need to be learned. But you can incorporate these into your daily routine. They can become just as automatic as brushing your teeth. Working with your doctors and a nutritionist will give you the tools you need.

Sources

David K. McCulloch, MD. "Patient information: Diabetes mellitus type 1: Overview (Beyond the Basics)." UpToDate, September 15, 2014.

Continue Reading