Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetes means your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. With type 1 diabetes, your pancreas does not make insulin.

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Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into your cells to give them energy. Without insulin, too much glucose stays in your blood. Over time, high blood glucose can lead to serious problems with your heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves, and gums and teeth.

Type 1 diabetes happens most often in children and young adults but can appear at any age. Symptoms may include

  • Being very thirsty
  • Urinating often
  • Feeling very hungry or tired
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Having sores that heal slowly
  • Having dry, itchy skin
  • Losing the feeling in your feet or having tingling in your feet
  • Having blurry eyesight

A blood test can show if you have diabetes. If you do, you will need to take insulin for the rest of your life. A blood test called the A1C can check to see how well you are managing your diabetes.



Type 1 Diabetes mellitus is a chronic medical condition that occurs when the pancreas, an organ in the abdomen, produces very little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body to absorb and use glucose and other nutrients from food, store fat, and build up protein. Without insulin, blood glucose (sugar) levels become higher than normal.

Type 1 Diabetes requires regular blood sugar monitoring and treatment with insulin. Treatment, lifestyle adjustments, and self-care can control blood sugar levels and minimize the risk of disease-related complications.

Type 1 Diabetes usually begins in childhood or young adulthood, but can develop at any age. In the United States, Canada, and Europe, type 1 diabetes accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all cases of diabetes.


Risk Factors


  • Family history
    • Anyone with a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes has a slightly increased risk of developing the condition.
  • Genetic
    • The presence of certain genes indicates an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
  • Geography
    • The incidence of type 1 diabetes tends to increase as you travel away from the equator. People living in Finland and Sardinia have the highest incidence of type 1 diabetes — about two to three times higher than rates in the United States and 400 times the incidence among people living in Venezuela.
  • Age
    • Although type 1 diabetes can appear at any age, it appears at two noticeable peaks. The first peak occurs in children between 4 and 7 years old, and the second is in children between 10 and 14 years old.


  • Exposure to certain viruses, such as the Epstein-Barr virus, Coxsackie virus, mumps virus and cytomegalovirus
  • Early exposure to cow’s milk
  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Drinking water that contains nitrates
  • Early (before 4 months) or late (after 7 months) introduction of cereal and gluten into a baby’s diet
  • Having a mother who had preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • Being born with jaundice



Type 1 Diabetes usually develops when the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells (called the beta cells) in the pancreas. This is called an autoimmune response. The cause of this abnormal immune response is being studied.

This process occurs over many months or years, and there may be no symptoms of diabetes. High blood sugar and its associated symptoms (frequent urination, thirst) do not usually occur until more than 90 percent of the cells that make insulin have been destroyed.

Type 1 Diabetes can develop in people with a family history of diabetes type 1, but it also develops in people with no family history of diabetes. In either case, people who develop diabetes have one or more genes that make them susceptible to the disease. Environmental factors, such as exposure to certain viruses and foods early in life, might trigger the autoimmune response.

Close relatives (children, siblings) of a person with diabetes type 1 have an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes, compared to a person with no family history (5 to 6 percent versus 0.4 percent, respectively).

Genetic testing can help to determine if a family member is at risk of developing diabetes. However, these tests are currently only available to people who participate in a clinical research trial.




  • Urinating often
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Feeling very hungry – even though you are eating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
  • Weight loss – even though you are eating more



The diagnosis of diabetes is based on your symptoms and blood tests.


Most people with type 1 diabetes have symptoms of high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). This includes:

●Excessive thirst

●Feeling tired

●Needing to urinate frequently

●Losing weight

●Blurred vision

Less commonly, there are symptoms of a problem called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). People with DKA have symptoms of high blood sugar (see above), as well as nausea and vomiting, belly pain, breathing rapidly, feeling sluggish, having trouble paying attention, and sometimes coma. DKA is a medical emergency and must be treated promptly.


Several blood tests are used to measure blood sugar levels. Having a higher than normal blood sugar, as well as the symptoms described above, usually means that you have diabetes.


It is usually easy to tell if you have type 1 or type 2. However, there are situations where it is not clear if a person has diabetes type 1 or type 2. In this situation, your doctor or nurse will treat you as if you have type 1 while waiting on the results of further blood tests.



Diabetes mellitus is a lifelong condition that can be controlled with lifestyle adjustments and medical treatments. Keeping blood sugar levels under control can prevent or minimize complications. Insulin treatment is one component of a diabetes treatment plan for people with type 1 diabetes.

Insulin treatment replaces or supplements the body’s own insulin, restoring normal or near-normal blood sugar levels. Many different types of insulin treatment can successfully control blood sugar levels; the best option depends upon a variety of individual factors. With a little extra planning, people with diabetes who take insulin can lead a full life and keep their blood sugar under control.


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