In people with Type-1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot make insulin. This vital hormone helps the body’s cells convert sugar into energy. Without it, sugar builds up in the blood and can reach dangerous levels.
The symptoms of Type-1 diabetes tend to come on suddenly and may include feeling more thirsty than usual, dry mouth, fruity breath and frequent urination.
As blood sugar levels remain high, Type-1 diabetes often leads to unintentional weight loss, increase in appetite, lack of energy and drowsiness. Many people with Type-1 diabetes experience uncomfortable skin conditions, including bacterial infections, fungal infections, itching, dry skin and poor circulation.
Type-1 diabetes can develop at any age. However, it accounts for two-thirds of the new cases of diabetes diagnosed in those under the age of 19. There appear to be two peaks in the age of onset: the first in early childhood and the second during puberty. The condition affects males and females equally.
Girls with Type-1 diabetes are more likely to get genital yeast infections. Babies can develop candidiasis, a severe form of diaper rash caused by yeast that can easily spread from the diaper area to the thighs and stomach.
When blood sugars are not controlled, Type-1 diabetes can cause more serious symptoms such as numbness or tingling in the feet, blurred vision, low blood sugar/hypoglycemia and loss of consciousness.
Some patients have no obvious warning signs before falling into a diabetic coma, which requires emergency treatment.
Without treatment, Type-1 diabetes deprives the body’s cells of the sugar they need for energy. Your body starts burning fat for energy instead, which causes ketones to build up in the blood. These are acids that can poison the body. High levels of acid in the blood and the other abnormalities that result from the change in your blood’s pH level may trigger a life-threatening coma known as diabetic ketoacidosis. This is an emergency that must be treated quickly and oftentimes in the hospital.
Type-1 vs. Type-2 diabetes
In Type-1 diabetes, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. In Type-2 diabetes, the pancreas is not under attack and usually produces enough insulin. But for numerous reasons, the body doesn’t use the insulin effectively. The symptoms of the two forms are similar, but usually come on more rapidly in people with Type-1.
What causes Type-1 diabetes?
Doctors aren’t sure what makes the immune system turn against the pancreas, but most suspect a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental factors. Scientists have identified 50 genes or gene regions that raise the risk of developing Type-1 diabetes. But genetics alone don’t account for all the risk, so having these genes doesn’t mean that you’ll develop Type-1 diabetes. Some researchers believe that environmental triggers, such as a virus, or dietary or pregnancy-related factors may play a role as well.
Simple blood tests can diagnose diabetes. A fasting blood sugar test or a random blood sugar test (plus the presence of symptoms) can be used. An A1C test, which reveals average blood sugar levels for the past two or three months, can also be used. Tests should be repeated on two separate days to diagnose diabetes. A less convenient glucose tolerance test will also help determine whether you have diabetes.
If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor may be able to determine the type by checking for certain antibodies in the blood.
Prolonged high blood sugar can damage many of the body’s systems over time. People with Type-1 diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney failure, vision problems and blindness, gum disease and tooth loss
The first step toward preventing complications is to regularly monitor your blood sugar or glucose level. This involves pricking a finger, putting a drop of blood onto a test strip, and putting the strip into a glucose meter. The results will help you optimise your treatment plan. When blood sugar stays near the normal range, you’ll have more energy, fewer skin problems, and a reduced risk of heart disease and kidney damage.
Another way to check blood sugar patterns is with a continuous glucose monitoring system. A sensor measures the level of glucose in the tissue every 10 seconds and sends the information to a cell phone-sized device called a ‘monitor’ that you wear. The system automatically records an average glucose value every five minutes for up to 72 hours. The device is not intended for day-to-day monitoring or long-term self-care, and it is not a replacement for standard blood sugar monitoring. It is only intended for use to discover trends in blood sugar levels.
Everyone with Type-1 diabetes must take insulin to help the body process blood sugar. Most patients take insulin as an injection and need multiple shots per day. Your doctor will explain how to adjust the insulin shots based on the results of your blood sugar testing. The goal is to keep glucose levels in the normal range as often as possible.
There are many myths about what people with diabetes can and cannot eat. The reality is there are no off limits foods. You can eat sweets as part of a well-balanced diet and treatment plan. The key is to work with your doctor to balance your insulin therapy, meals, and level of physical activity.