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What Is Type 1 Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disorder that causes high amounts of glucose (sugar) in your blood. When you eat, your body releases a hormone called insulin to help turn the sugar into your main source of energy. But if you have type 1 diabetes, you don’t make enough insulin to get the glucose into your cells to make energy and the glucose leaves your body in the urine.

Specialists usually diagnose type 1 diabetes in children and young adults, although it can appear at any age. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive.

Can You Reverse Type 1 Diabetes?

There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, but you can manage it by taking insulin, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Our team at University of Utah Health provides resources for diabetes management and education.

Is Type 1 Diabetes Worse Than Type 2?

Both types of diabetes can lead to serious health problems if not controlled. However, people with type 1 are more likely to have autoimmune disorders like celiac disease or dermatomyositis. You also have type 1 diabetes for life, whereas some people can put type 2 diabetes into remission by losing weight.

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Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms

Your symptoms of type 1 diabetes can appear in a matter of weeks. In comparison, type 2 diabetes symptoms often develop over several years.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you may notice a variety of symptoms:

  • Blurry vision
  • Fatigue
  • Increased hunger, thirst, and urination
  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Sores that do not heal quickly
  • Unexplained weight loss

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when your immune system, the body’s system for fighting infection, attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. Scientists don’t know why this happens but think genetic and environmental factors play a role.

Type 1 Diabetes Risk Factors

Certain factors may increase your risk for developing type 1 diabetes.

  • Age: Type 1 diabetes can appear at any age, but it’s more likely to occur between the ages of 4–7 or 10–14. Research shows hormones may impact the timing of the disease.
  • Ethnicity: White people are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than people with Black or Latino heritage.
  • Family history: If you have a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes, your risk is slightly higher.
  • Genes: Some genes increase your risk for developing type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes Test & Diagnosis

Your provider will diagnose diabetes using blood tests to measure your blood sugar. The random plasma glucose test measures your blood glucose level at a single point in time. Your provider may also use the A1C blood test to find out how long you’ve had high blood glucose.

However, these tests don’t identify the type of diabetes you may have. To diagnose type 1 diabetes, your provider will look for autoantibodies in your blood. Autoantibodies attack your healthy tissues and cells. If you have one or more types of autoantibodies, your provider will diagnose you with type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes Complications

Over time, type 1 diabetes affects your major organs and tissues, including your heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys. Maintaining normal blood sugar levels significantly lowers your risk for developing the following complications:

  • Eye damage, including glaucoma, cataracts, and blindness
  • Heart and blood vessel conditions, such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), and high blood pressure
  • Kidney damage leading to kidney failure that requires dialysis or a kidney transplant
  • Neuropathy or nerve damage that causes tingling, numbness, burning, or pain in your fingers or toes. Neuropathy usually spreads upward and can eventually affect entire limbs
  • Skin and mouth conditions caused by fungal or bacterial infections

Type 1 Diabetes Treatment

The goal of type 1 diabetes treatment is to keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. Generally, you should try to keep blood sugar levels before meals between 80 and 130 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).

To keep your blood sugar in check, you may need to follow guidelines:

  • Count the carbohydrates you eat.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Monitor your blood sugar frequently.
  • Take insulin.

Controlling your blood sugar is a very important part of diabetes treatment. If you have difficulty managing your condition or if you require more than three insulin shots a day, it’s a good idea to consult a diabetes specialist. A specialist can also tell you about clinical research opportunities or provide diabetes education or refer you to appropriate providers who can help.

Type 1 Diabetes Medications

If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need to take insulin every day. You can inject it or use a computerized insulin pump to deliver the medication through a catheter (small tube). You may need a combination of several types of insulin to control your blood sugar. Some types begin working within minutes of injection, while others are long lasting, over a day. Your provider will help you create an insulin therapy plan to control your blood sugar.

Type 1 Diabetes Monitoring

You will need to check your blood glucose with a finger stick up to four times per day. You may also use a continuous glucose monitor, which is inserted under the skin to measure blood sugar continuously. Your doctor will help you decide which method is best for you.

Type 1 Diabetes Diet

A one-size-fits-all diabetes diet doesn’t exist. However, to control your diabetes, include nutritious, low-fat, high-fiber foods in your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid highly processed foods and simple carbohydrates like white bread and pasta.

You should also learn to count the number of carbohydrates in the foods you consume. This information will help you determine how much insulin you need so your body processes the carbohydrates properly. Your provider or a registered dietitian can help you create a meal plan.

Schedule an Appointment

Providers at the Utah Diabetes and Endocrinology Center (UDEC) offer complete management of blood sugar levels, the latest technology, and multidisciplinary services to manage diabetes and its complications. You do not need a referral to see our providers, but your insurance plan may require one. Please check with them to find out. Make an appointment by calling 801-581-7761.

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