Type 1 diabetes 

Introduction 

Teenage diabetes: Chandler's story

Chandler has type 1 diabetes. Find out how the condition has affected her life and the lives of those around her.

Media last reviewed: 16/03/2013

Next review due: 16/03/2015

How common is diabetes?

Diabetes is very common, with an increasing number of people being affected by the condition every year.

In 2011, it was estimated that around 366 million people have diabetes worldwide, with this number predicted to grow to 552 million by 2030.

In the UK, more than 1 in 20 people are thought to have either diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes. About 90% of those affected have type 2 diabetes, with the remaining 10% having type 1 diabetes.

Two friends

Living with diabetes

How to live healthily with diabetes, including advice on diet and lifestyle

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person's blood sugar (glucose) level to become too high.

The hormone insulin - produced by the pancreas - is responsible for controlling the amount of glucose in the blood.

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 - where the pancreas doesn't produce any insulin
  • Type 2 - where the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or the body’s cells don't react to insulin

This topic is about type 1 diabetes. Read more about type 2 diabetes.

Another type of diabetes, known as gestational diabetes, occurs in some pregnant women and tends to disappear following birth.

It's very important for diabetes to be diagnosed as soon as possible because it will get progressively worse if left untreated.

You should therefore visit your GP if you have symptoms such as feeling thirsty, passing urine more often than usual and feeling tired all the time (see the list below for more diabetes symptoms). 

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age but usually appears before the age of 40, and especially in childhood. Around 10% of all diabetes is type 1, but it's the most common type of childhood diabetes. This is why it's sometimes called juvenile diabetes or early-onset diabetes

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas (a small gland behind the stomach) doesn't produce any insulin - the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. This is why it's also sometimes called insulin-dependent diabetes.

If the amount of glucose in the blood is too high, it can, over time, seriously damage the body's organs.

In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn't produce enough insulin to function properly, or the body's cells don't react to insulin. Around 90% of adults with diabetes have type 2, and it tends to develop later in life than type 1.

Diabetes symptoms

The symptoms of diabetes occur because the lack of insulin means that glucose stays in the blood and isn’t used as fuel for energy.

Your body tries to reduce blood glucose levels by getting rid of the excess glucose in your urine.

Typical symptoms include:

  • feeling very thirsty
  • passing urine more often than usual, particularly at night
  • feeling very tired
  • weight loss and loss of muscle bulk

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually develop very quickly in young people (over a few days or weeks). In adults, the symptoms often take longer to develop (a few months).

Read more about symptoms of type 1 diabetes.

Causes of type 1 diabetes 

Type 1 diabetes occurs as a result of the body being unable to produce insulin, which moves glucose out of the blood and into your cells to be used for energy.

Without insulin, your body will break down its own fat and muscle, resulting in weight loss. This can lead to a serious short-term condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, where the bloodstream becomes acidic and you develop dangerous levels of dehydration.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system (the body's natural defence against infection and illness) mistakes the cells in your pancreas as harmful and attacks them.

Read more about the causes of type 1 diabetes.

Treating type 1 diabetes

It's important that diabetes is diagnosed as early as possible so that treatment can be started.

Diabetes can't be cured, but treatment aims to keep your blood glucose levels as normal as possible, and control your symptoms to prevent health problems developing later.

If you're diagnosed with diabetes, you'll be referred to a diabetes care team for specialist treatment and monitoring.

As your body can't produce insulin, you'll need regular insulin injections to keep your glucose levels normal. You'll be taught how to do this and how to match the insulin you inject to the food you eat, taking into account your blood glucose level and how much exercise you do.

Insulin injections comes in several different forms, with each working slightly differently. Some last up to a whole day (long-acting), some last up to eight hours (short-acting) and some work quickly but don't last very long (rapid-acting). You'll most likely need a combination of different insulin preparations.

There are alternatives to insulin injections but they're only suitable for a small number of patients. They are:

  • insulin pump therapy - where a small device that constantly pumps insulin (at a rate you control) into your bloodstream through a needle that's inserted under the skin
  • islet cell transplantation - where healthy insulin-producing cells from the pancreas of a deceased donor are implanted into the pancreas of someone with type 1 diabetes (read about the criteria for having an islet transplant)
  • a complete pancreas transplant

Read more about diagnosing diabetes and treating type 1 diabetes.

Complications

If diabetes is left untreated it can cause a number of different health problems. Large amounts of glucose can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs.

Even a mildly raised glucose level that doesn't cause any symptoms can have damaging effects in the long term.

Read more about the complications of type 1 diabetes.

Living with diabetes

If you have type 1 diabetes, you'll need to look after your health very carefully. Caring for your health will also make treating your diabetes easier and minimise your risk of developing complications.

For example, eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly will lower your blood glucose level. Stopping smoking (if you smoke) will also reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Read more about living with diabetes.




Page last reviewed: 12/08/2014

Next review due: 12/08/2016

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The 8 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Jack799 said on 13 June 2014

I'm 16 years of age and I was diagnosed at 11 I just can't get to grips with diabetes recently I have been putting a lot of weight on and also it is hard for me to carb count

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richardhe said on 03 June 2014

I am type 1 diabetic. Diagnosed at age 72 following flu type illness. I have learned to control my blood glucose level by adjusting dose of insulin. I am very active and I take sweet biscuits out with me whilst jogging to prevent hypoglycaemia. I have read a lot about the pathophysiology of diabetes. However, I can find no explanation as to why the type 1 diabetic metabolism fails to raise blood glucose level (eg. by release from liver) when it falls to 4.0 mM or less. Does anyone have an explanation?

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Tessl said on 06 March 2014

I have only just found this site but have already seen several comments that I can relate too. One young lady is looking for help with her uncontrolled diabetes, I wish her luck, I have found after 44 years that it doesn't exist. Doctors, consultants and specialist nurses just don't listen and high blood sugars are what you are causing yourself. If she finds an answer I hope she lets me know as I'm still looking, the only thing I found is that the rise seems to follow my monthly cycle, which no one will accept. The disabled gentleman can try several places who may help. There are social workers at the hospital you attend, The motability society association may help.
Citizens advice should also be of use. Did you also know that a trip to a hospital appointment can be made by ambulance, that must be booked by your GP. Hope that helps

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mrsydb said on 07 February 2014

I am 38 and was diagnosed with the flu about three weeks ago. Following the flu I developed pneumonia, and then bronchitis. Since struggling with the flu and associated complications I was informed that I have developed type 1 diabetes.
Understanding that I have always had a genetic risk for developing the disease after getting through two pregnancies without developing the condition I was quite surprised to develop the condition after catching the flu.

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Heidi s said on 09 September 2013

I am a type 1 diabetic. I am finding this site extremely helpful to read. I am very un controlled an in extreme need of some 1to1 help via nurses or specialists. Can anyone advise me on who is best contact as appointments with my doc and such don't seem to help it sink in on how much my body is being damaged and suffering . And how serious the condition is on my health.

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jonmac said on 20 September 2012

I am 60 years old and was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic on May 31st this year. It was a bit of a shock but I am now injecting insulin several times a day and carb counting my food intake before each meal. I wish there was a page with more detailed information about coping with diabetes. I am interested in the glycaemic index and wnat to find out more about how to effectively manage my diet.

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timbo1 said on 09 September 2012

I am in my 39th year as a Type 1 diabetic and I am also interested in any answers you get to your questions. It`ll be no help to you but I do sympathise with you and wish you all the best. Sorry I can`t provide the answers you need.
Timbo1

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Dogs life said on 24 July 2012

I have been a type 1 diabetic for 47 years, was involved in a car accident and broke my leg. The break did not heal properly and I am now disabled. How do I get registered as being disabled as I can no longer drive and am reliant on public transport. Is type 1 diabetics considered a disability? Is there a website I can find out this information and can I claim living expenses with from job centre as I am unemployed?

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