Type 1 Diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases cause the immune system to overreact, and in response to a trigger, will attack the body’s own tissues. In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas which make insulin. Other examples of autoimmune diseases include celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, crohn’s disease, psoriasis and hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Because the beta cells are attacked, the body is no longer able to make insulin. This hormone is required for the body to be able to regulate blood sugar. Without insulin, the body will shut down, so people with type 1 diabetes need to inject insulin on a daily basis in order to survive.
People with type 1 diabetes are not born with it, just like people aren’t born with celiac disease or multiple sclerosis. They live a normal, healthy life and then some sort of trigger (such as a virus or unknown environmental trigger) will cause the body to attack itself. This can happen during any stage of life, as early as infancy but as late as adulthood.
Common symptoms of type 1 diabetes include frequent urination, extreme thirst and hunger, weight loss and blurry vision. If these symptoms are experienced, a simple blood test can detect if blood sugars are elevated. Often, when type 1 diabetes is diagnosed, blood sugars are extremely high and a trip to the hospital is required. At the hospital, IV fluids and insulin will be administered to get blood sugars back to a safe range.
Type 1 diabetes can only be managed by the use of insulin. This can be administered with an insulin pen, a vial and syringe or an insulin pump. Type 1 diabetes can be overwhelming to manage at first. There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to managing blood sugars, and a lot of things need to be learned right away to get started. However, people with type 1 diabetes can live long, healthy, normal lives. In fact, there are many famous athletes, singers and actors with type 1 diabetes.
Generally, people with type 1 diabetes have a whole healthcare team to help them manage their diabetes. This may include an endocrinologist, Certified Diabetes Educator, and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Ideally, people with diabetes will check their blood sugars several times a day. They'll then dose their insulin based on several factors including blood sugar readings, activity level and foods consumed.
Type 1 diabetes affects about 1.25 million people in the US, according to the American Diabetes Association. This number equates to about 5% of Americans with diabetes. There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes, but the treatment of it has come a long way. It requires daily management, but living a healthy, full life with type 1 diabetes is very possible!