Diabetes, type 1 


Children with diabetes

Parents describe how they deal with having a diabetic child, including daily routines such as insulin injections, and how children can live life to the full.

Media last reviewed: 20/08/2013

Next review due: 20/08/2015

How common is diabetes?

Diabetes is very common. In the UK, around 2.9 million people are affected by the condition. Around 850,000 people are also thought to have undiagnosed diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes affects 400,000 people in the UK. Of these, over 29,000 are children.

Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1 diabetes. About 90% of adults with diabetes have type 2, and about 10% have type 1.

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

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person's blood sugar level to become too high. It is also known as diabetes mellitus.

In the UK, around 2.9 million people are affected by diabetes. There are also thought to be around 850,000 with undiagnosed diabetes.

Types of diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes. It is also sometimes known as juvenile diabetes or early-onset diabetes because it often develops before the age of 40, usually during the teenage years.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas (a small gland behind the stomach) does not produce any insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. If the amount of glucose in the blood is too high, it can seriously damage the body's organs.

If you have type 1 diabetes, you will need to take insulin injections for life. You must also make sure that your blood glucose levels stay balanced by eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise and having regular blood tests.

In type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body's cells do not react to it. This is known as insulin resistance.

This topic focuses on type 1 diabetes. Read more about type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes symptoms

Diabetes can cause various symptoms, including:

  • feeling very thirsty
  • urinating frequently, particularly at night
  • feeling very tired
  • weight loss and loss of muscle bulk (in type 1 diabetes)

Read more about symptoms of type 1 diabetes.

Causes of type 1 diabetes 

Type 1 diabetes occurs because your body is unable to produce insulin. Insulin usually moves glucose out of your blood and into your cells, where it is converted to energy. However, in type 1 diabetes, there is no insulin to move glucose out of your bloodstream and into your cells.

Without insulin, the body breaks down its own fat and muscle (leading to weight loss). In type 1 diabetes this can lead to a serious short- term condition where the bloodstream becomes acidic along with dangerous dehydration (diabetic ketoacidosis).

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

Read more information about the causes of type 1 diabetes.

Treating type 1 diabetes

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

Diabetes cannot 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 are diagnosed with diabetes, you will be referred to a diabetes care team for specialist treatment. Your care team will be able to explain your condition to you in detail and help you understand your treatment. They will also closely monitor your condition.

As your body cannot produce any insulin, you will need to have regular insulin treatment to keep your glucose levels normal. You will need to learn 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. This skill needs to be practised and learnt gradually. Many centres now provide courses to teach these skills.

Insulin comes in several different forms, each of which works slightly differently. For example, some last up to a whole day (long-acting), some last up to eight hours (short-acting) and some work quickly but do not last very long (rapid-acting). Your treatment may include a combination of these different insulin preparations.

Some people with type 1 diabetes may benefit from a fairly new procedure known as islet transplantation. It involves implanting healthy islet cells from the pancreas of a deceased donor into the pancreas of someone with type 1 diabetes.

Islet transplants have been shown to be an effective way of reducing the risk of severe hypoglycaemic attacks or ‘hypos’ (where a person’s blood sugar falls to an abnormally low level).

So far, the results of islet transplants carried out in the UK have shown a significant reduction in the number of hypos, from 23 per person per year before transplantation to less than one per person per year afterwards.

Read more information about diagnosing diabetes and treating type 1 diabetes.


Left untreated, diabetes can cause many different health problems. Large amounts of glucose can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs.

Even a mildly raised glucose level that does not 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 will 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.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly will lower your blood glucose level.

And stopping smoking (if you smoke) will reduce your risk of developing a cardiovascular disease.

Read more about living with diabetes.

Diabetes in pregnancy

During pregnancy, some women have such high levels of glucose in their blood that their body cannot produce enough insulin to absorb it all. This is known as gestational diabetes, and it affects approximately 5% of pregnant women. For people with existing type 1 diabetes, pregnancy can also make this worse.

Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of health problems in an unborn baby, so it is important to keep the levels of glucose in your blood under control.

In most cases, gestational diabetes develops in the second half of pregnancy and disappears after the baby is born.

Read more information about diabetes in pregnancy and gestational diabetes.

Page last reviewed: 17/07/2012

Next review due: 17/07/2014


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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.

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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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