According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), there are currently more than 34 million Americans living with diabetes. That’s more than one out of every ten people living in this country - an eye-opening statistic to say the least.
However, less than 1.6 million people with diabetes are diagnosed with the Type 1 form of the disease. It is far less prevalent than Type 2 diabetes and in many ways it’s also far less understood. This post attempts to shed some light on the basics of Type 1 diabetes. What causes it. How to spot the warning signs. How to test for it and how to live a healthy and productive life with Type 1 diabetes.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder and, yet there is no known cure for it. The reality is, once diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes it’s something you’ll be dealing with for the rest of your life. The good news is proper medical treatment and lifestyle changes make Type 1 diabetes quite easy to manage, and most people living with the disease can enjoy happy, healthy, active, and productive lives.
Type 1 Diabetes and the Immune System
So, what do we mean by an autoimmune condition? Your immune system is a marvelously hard worker. It is constantly patrolling the body and fighting off invasive bacteria and viruses, which is how you avoid getting too sick and why you’re able to recover when you do get sick.
Unfortunately, in some individuals the immune system gets its wires crossed. It mistakenly targets good cells in the body - important ones that the body needs to function properly. This is exactly what happens with Type 1 diabetes.
When someone has Type 1 diabetes, the immune system targets the healthy beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is a vital hormone that we all need. It allows glucose (sugar) stored in the blood to enter our cells and be transformed into the energy necessary for us to think clearly and function properly.
Without enough insulin in the body, blood sugar begins to build up, which can quickly inhibit the body’s normal functioning, and, if left unchecked, will eventually lead to serious and even deadly health complications.
In someone who is Type 1 diabetic, the immune system destroys the body’s only insulin-producing cells. In doing so, it destroys the only mechanism the body must effectively regulate blood sugar level. Once these beta cells are gone, there’s no getting them back. Blood sugar levels continue to rise, and the body has no way of stopping it. The result is what we call Type 1 diabetes.
Causes of Type 1 Diabetes
What causes someone to develop Type 1 diabetes? The truth is, even with so many recent advances in treating diabetes, including glucose meters and test strips, pen needles, and continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), modern medicine still isn’t quite sure what factors actually lead to Type 1 diabetes. It’s somewhat of a mystery, though there does seem to be some predisposition to developing the disease within families. It’s also believed by many researchers that viral infections, such as the common cold or flu, can trigger Type 1 diabetes in those prone to the disease, as the onset often follows in the weeks after a viral infection.
What is known for certain, however, is that you cannot prevent Type 1 diabetes and you cannot cause it. This form of diabetes is not the result of being overweight, or eating a poor diet, or not exercising enough, or living an unhealthy lifestyle. The reality is if you’ve been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, there’s absolutely nothing you did or didn’t do to cause it. You simply drew the Type 1 diabetes card.
Unfortunately, the lack of understanding and control associated with Type 1 diabetes can be difficult for many people to accept. It can be emotionally taxing to realize you’re going to begin a Type 1 diabetes treatment plan and be on it for the rest of your life.
For these reasons, people with Type 1 diabetes are at a far greater risk of developing associated mental health and emotional issues, such as depression, anxiety, stress, even eating disorders.
If you or someone you know is living with Type 1 diabetes and is having a particularly hard time, the ADA has put together a Mental Health Provider Network that can connect you with a professional who is trained and experienced in working with diabetes-related mental health conditions. If you need help, please get it. You can learn more here.
Identifying Type 1 Diabetes
Most Type 1 diabetes diagnoses happen early in life between the ages of four and 14 years old. The disease can manifest later in life but even in these cases it usually occurs before a person turns 40.
The real danger of Type 1 diabetes is that it can take months, perhaps even years, for enough insulin-producing beta cells to be destroyed in order to result in any kind of diabetic symptoms. In other words, blood sugar levels could be rising slowly over a prolonged period before you realize there is any sort of problem.
This is dangerous, particularly for children, because by the time the body shows signs of Type 1 diabetes, they could be suffering from severe hypoglycemia and even diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition caused by having too many ketones in the body. Ketones are acids left behind when the body begins burning fat because it cannot effectively turn glucose into energy.
Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) Symptoms:
– A fruity smell on the breath
– Dry or flushed skin
– Abdominal pain
– Difficulty breathing
– Confusion/issues focusing attention
For many people, diabetic ketoacidosis is the first sign that they have Type 1 diabetes. Ketoacidosis requires immediate medical attention and perhaps hospitalization. The patient will promptly begin an insulin treatment program, which they will remain on in some form or another for the rest of their lives.
However, there are signs to look for that can help identify Type 1 diabetes, particularly in children, before it leads to serious complications like ketoacidosis. These include:
– Unusually intense thirst
– Frequent urination
– Extreme fatigue
– Unexplained weight loss
– Blurry vision
Anyone who experiences these symptoms should seek medical help right away and be tested for Type 1 diabetes.
If you or your child has been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, you understand the importance of maintaining a strict insulin treatment schedule. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to making this part of your life easier with a complete selection of diabetic supplies at prices most stores and pharmacies cannot match. Our selection includes glucose meters, test strips, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring, insulin pumps and infusion sets from leading manufacturers, including Abbott, OneTouch, Dexcom, Accu-Chek and Omron. Order online today and we’ll rush your delivery to your home or office.
How Is Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosed?
A simple blood test will tell you and your doctor whether you have diabetes. If your doctor suspects you have Type 1 diabetes, your blood may also be tested for autoantibodies, which indicate the body is attacking itself and are often present with Type 1 diabetes, but not with Type 2 diabetes. You may also undergo a urine test to determine if you have high levels of ketones, another indicator of Type 1 diabetes.
Diagnosis and the necessary diabetes treatment plan that follows both begin with a remarkably simple blood test. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes described above. If you experience them, again, see your doctor or seek medical assistance and get tested right away.
What Is the Honeymoon Phase for Type 1 Diabetes?
Another unique aspect of Type 1 diabetes is something called the “Honeymoon Phase”. When children or young people are initially diagnosed, their bodies may continue producing some level of insulin, which means they require fewer insulin shots to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. In fact, as soon as they begin insulin treatments, they can achieve near normal blood sugar levels and any diabetes symptoms they’re feeling can suddenly vanish. Some can even stop using insulin altogether - but this is temporary.
Doctors refer to this as the Honeymoon Phase because patients may begin to believe their condition is improving when this is very unlikely. The period may last a few weeks, or it may last a couple of months, however, it will eventually end. People with Type 1 diabetes will always require some level of insulin therapy to maintain safe blood sugar levels.
Type 1 Diabetes Treatment
Everybody with Type 1 diabetes requires insulin therapy. There are various ways to go about it. You might take insulin shots using a syringe or pen needle. Your doctor might recommend using an insulin pump and infusion sets, which replace the need for injections.
Your specific insulin dosage and delivery system is something you and your doctor will determine together. As you can imagine, younger children have special considerations and parents will work with their diabetes care teams to find the best solution.
One of the most interesting and, in fact, beneficial aspects to treating Type 1 diabetes is that it is a self-administered program. You are in charge of monitoring and managing treatment. For example, you’ll test your own (or your child’s) blood sugar levels each day based on your doctor’s instructions. You’ll administer your own insulin dosage. You’ll be responsible for following any dietary and activity instructions. You’ll be actively involved in your diabetes treatment plan each day.
Being so deeply engaged and accountable provides a sense of empowerment which inspires most people with Type 1 diabetes to stick to their treatment programs.
Besides, thanks to testing devices like glucose meters and continuous glucose monitors (CGM), and the wide choice of insulin delivery options - syringes, pen needles, insulin pumps with infusion sets, managing blood sugar and self-administering the correct amount of insulin is easier today than it has ever been for those with Type 1 diabetes.
Therefore, people living with Type 1 diabetes today have nothing holding them back from living their best lives.
Type 1 Takeaways
The most important thing you need to know about Type 1 diabetes is that you can live a happy and healthy live with the disease. Certainly, you’ll have to make some lifestyle adjustments, become a little more diligent about your diet and health, and you’ll always be required to test your blood sugar and give yourself insulin treatments. But these don’t have to disrupt your life. Understanding the disease and taking advantage of new diabetes tools and technology make managing Type 1 diabetes part of a simple and effective daily routine.
If you found this post helpful, we hope you’ll check out our other informative posts about living with diabetes. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re committed to keeping you informed about your care and treatment options. We’re also proud to offer great prices on all the diabetic supplies you need from leading manufacturers, including BD, Accu-Chek, OneTouch, TRUE Metrix, and Medtronic. We invite you to shop and save on our entire selection at www.diabeticwarehouse.org.