Type 1 diabetes

Your body is a fuel-burning machine, and the main fuel it burns is sugar, also known as glucose. In people who have diabetes, though, the body doesn't effectively store and use sugar for energy. As a result, sugar builds up in the blood, where it can lead to serious problems like blindness and nerve damage. Let's talk about a kind of diabetes known as type 1 diabetes.

Unlike type 2 diabetes, which is often caused by obesity, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. That means your immune system, which normally protects your body, turns against you. In this case, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.  Insulin is a hormone that moves sugar into cells. There it's stored until your body needs it for energy. Without enough insulin, sugar can't move into your cells, so it builds up in your bloodstream.

How do you know that you have Type 1 diabetes?
The first signs are usually that you feel very thirsty or tired. You may lose weight without having planned to, or feel numbness or tingling in your hands or feet. If your blood sugar has already gotten very high, your body can't use sugar for energy, so it uses fat instead. This leads to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. Your breath will smell fruity, like you've just eaten a fruit salad. Your breathing will get faster, and you may feel sick to your stomach.

Your doctor will test your blood sugar level to find out if you have type 1 diabetes. The test may be done when you haven't eaten anything, this is called a fasting blood glucose test.

When you have type 1 diabetes, you need to take insulin to replace what your body isn't making. Insulin is only available as an injection, so you'll have to learn how to give yourself a shot each day or wear a pump that delivers insulin to your body continuously.

Managing diabetes also means watching your diet so you don't get too much or too little sugar at once. You also need to check your blood sugar levels regularly, and keep track of them over time.

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease, but it's one you can control, and live with. The key to staying healthy with diabetes is partnering with your team of doctors. Test your blood sugar at home, and have your doctor check your A1c levels at least every 3 to 6 months. This test shows how well you're controlling your blood sugar over time.

Also visit your doctor for regular cholesterol, blood pressure, and kidney tests. See an eye doctor at least once a year, and a dentist every 6 months. Also check your feet every day for skin sores that you might not be able to feel because of nerve damage. And see a podiatrist or your regular doctor for a foot exam twice a year. If you're having any symptoms like fatigue, frequent urination, blurred vision, foot sores, numbness or tingling, or a fast heartbeat, call your doctor right away.

Type 1 diabetes

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 10/25/2011
  • Alan Greene, MD, Author and Practicing Pediatrician; also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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