Diabetes can be a complicated condition. There are two different types, each of which has its causes, risk factors, and treatment options. Type 1 diabetes is the less common form of diabetes in the United States today — only about 1 in 20 people with diabetes have type 1. However, it’s the most common form of the disease in young children. Although there’s no cure, with the right medications and lifestyle choices, you can manage your type 1 diabetes and live a full, happy life.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
When you eat food, your body breaks down the sugars and starches into glucose, which is a very simple form of sugar. In a healthy person, a hormone called insulin moves glucose from the blood into the body’s cells. People with Type 1 diabetes either aren’t able to produce insulin, the chemical in your body that breaks down sugar, or they have too little insulin, which means that the amount of glucose in their blood can get dangerously high.
Here are some terms you need to know to understand type 1 diabetes:
- Glucose: The simple sugar that your body uses for energy.
- Insulin: A hormone that moves glucose from your blood into your cells.
- Blood glucose level: The concentration of glucose in the blood.
Stages and Types of Type 1 Diabetes
Many people confuse type 1 diabetes with type 2 diabetes, but they’re very different conditions. In type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce insulin. People with type 2 diabetes typically produce normal amounts of insulin, but the body doesn’t respond to it properly.
Most individuals with type 1 diabetes can stay healthy with the right diet and medication. Without treatment, however, type 1 diabetics can develop complications, including eye and kidney disease. Untreated diabetes can even lead to a stroke or heart disease. Because diabetes can progress into such serious health problems, it’s important to get treatment early and follow your doctor’s advice.
Symptoms and Causes
Experts think that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder — a condition where the immune system, which is supposed to fight infections, attacks parts of the body instead. With type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreas and stops it from producing insulin.
The following symptoms are associated with Type 1 diabetes:
- Extreme thirst and hunger
- Feeling tired
- Blurred vision
- Numb or tingling feet
- Involuntary weight loss
- Urinating more often or wetting the bed
Prevention and Risks
Type 1 diabetes often runs in families. If you or your partner has type 1 diabetes, your children will have a higher than average risk. This doesn’t mean they’ll get the disease, but look out for signs and symptoms, and take them to a doctor if they show any of them.
Scientists don’t know why some people develop type 1 diabetes, and others don’t. However, they’ve noticed that type 1 diabetes is more common in white people and those who live in cold climates. Breastfeeding and introducing solid foods at a later age may also reduce the risk, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Diagnosis and Tests
A doctor can diagnose diabetes with a simple blood test. Your doctor may ask you to fast (avoid eating or drinking anything except water) for eight hours before the test. A doctor or nurse then takes a small blood sample from your arm and measures the concentration of sugar in the blood.
- A blood glucose level of 126 mg/dL or higher after eight hours without eating suggests you have diabetes.
- If you didn’t fast before your blood test, a blood glucose level of 200 mg/dL or higher indicates you may have diabetes. Your doctor may ask you to fast for eight hours and then repeat the test.
Treatment, Procedures, and Medication
With type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce insulin, so you must inject yourself with insulin whenever your blood glucose level gets too high. Treatment for type 1 diabetes involves testing your blood glucose level several times a day and giving yourself the right amount of insulin.
Your doctor may recommend that you use an insulin pump, which automatically gives you the right dosage of insulin several times a day so that you don’t have to inject yourself. This kind of device attaches to your abdomen via a tiny needle that stays in place all day, every day.
Type 1 diabetics need regular health checkups to protect them against complications, such as eye and kidney diseases. Your doctor may give you medications to reduce the risks of these complications.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
A healthy diet and regular exercise can help keep type 1 diabetes under control. Use these diet tips to keep your blood glucose levels stable:
- Limit sugary foods, such as soda and candy.
- Choose whole grains over refined grains, such as brown rice instead of white rice.
- Eat small, frequent meals and snacks.
- Eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, peppers, and tomatoes.
- Eat a variety of proteins, including lean meat, fish, nuts, and beans.
Exercise is good for people with type 1 diabetes, but intense exercise can make your blood glucose levels too low. Measure your blood glucose before and after exercising to check that it’s at a safe level. If it’s too low, you may need to eat or drink a small, sugary snack, such as a small carton of juice, to bring it back up.
Receiving a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes can be scary, but the right diet and medication can help you stay healthy. Your doctor can give you personalized advice on what to eat and how often to inject insulin. Use this information to develop a routine that works for you in managing your diabetes.