Diabetes Information

Type 1 Diabetes – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of type 1 diabetes.


Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, is a condition wherein the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Although it can appear at any age, this type of diabetes usually develops in children and young adults.


Type 1 diabetes only comprises 5-10% of all cases of diabetes. The majority of diabetes mellitus cases are of the other type (type 2 diabetes). In the United States, it is estimated that anywhere from 1-3 million people are affected by this condition. To help you have a better understanding of the disease, this article will discuss type 1 diabetes symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.





Type 1 diabetes is a condition wherein the body produces little or no insulin. In people with the disease, the body’s own immune system attacks and damages the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.


Insulin is used by the body to convert glucose into energy. This hormone is responsible for controlling the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Thus, people with the disorder can suffer from hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels). Insulin injections are needed to prevent this from happening.




The following are the type 1 diabetes symptoms:


  • Frequent urination (polyuria)
  • Increased thirst (polydipsia)
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Extreme hunger (polyphagia)
  • Slow-healing wounds or bruises
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Mood changes and irritability
  • Depression
  • Bedwetting in children
  • Vaginal yeast infection in females




What exactly causes type 1 diabetes isn’t yet fully understood. There are various theories why this condition happens. These are:




The risk of a child having type 1 diabetes is as follows:


  • 5% if the father has it
  • 3% if the mother has it
  • 8% if a sibling has it




In identical twins, when one twin has type 1 diabetes, the other develops the disease 30% to 50% of the time. It means that 50% to 70 % will not get the condition despite them sharing the same genes.


This seems to suggest that environmental factors can influence the prevalence of the disease. For instance, type 1 diabetes is more common in Caucasians living in different parts of Europe, which further bolsters this premise. People from Finland and Sweden have the highest incidence of type 1 diabetes.




Another possible cause of type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune response triggered by a virus. The immune system attacks not only the virus-infected cells but other healthy cells in the body (in this case, the beta cells in the pancreas).


Some viruses have been linked to type 1 diabetes, including the mumps virus, Epstein-Barr virus, rubella virus, cytomegalovirus, and rotavirus.




  • Glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C test) – This blood test indicates the blood sugar level for the past 2-3 months. An HbA1C level of 6.5% or higher on two separate tests means that a person has diabetes.


  • Random blood sugar test – A blood sample will be taken from an individual at a random time. Regardless of when the person last ate, a result of 200 mg/dl (11.1 mmol/L) or higher means diabetes, especially when symptoms of diabetes are present, such as extreme thirst and frequent urination.


  • Fasting blood sugar test – This blood test will be taken after an overnight fast. A result of less than 100 mg/dl (5.6mmol/L) is normal. If the fasting blood sugar ranges from 100-125 mg/dl (5.6-6.9 mmol/L), that is prediabetes. If the result is 126 mg/dl (7mmol/L) or higher on two separate tests, that means a person already has diabetes.



Type 1 diabetes treatment includes taking insulin, frequent blood sugar monitoring, taking medications, eating healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight, and regular exercise.




A person with type 1 diabetes needs lifetime insulin therapy. There are different types of insulin: rapid-acting insulin, long-acting insulin, and intermediate options. Insulin is injected under the skin, to be absorbed into the bloodstream.


Type 1 diabetes treatment focuses on keeping blood sugar to the near normal range, which is approximately 80-140 mg/dl (4.4 – 7.8 mmol/L). The goal of normalizing blood glucose is to prevent long-term complications that can affect the cardiovascular system and the nervous system.


People with type 1 diabetes need insulin, but there’s a problem – the treatment can lead to hypoglycemia or low blood glucose (less than 70 mg/dl or 3.9 mmol/L). Hypoglycemia is common among people with type 1 diabetes and is often due to an imbalance of the following: insulin, food, and physical activity. Mild cases can be treated by eating/drinking a food/beverage that is high in sugar. More severe cases can lead to unconsciousness; they are treated with glucagon injections or intravenous glucose.

  • Insulin injections – People with type 1 diabetes can use a fine needle and syringe or an insulin pen to inject insulin under the skin. An insulin pen looks like an ink pen and is available in refillable or disposable varieties. Needles are also available in various sizes, so it’s relatively easy to find one that is suited for you.



Multiple daily injections which include a combination of a long-acting insulin and a rapid-acting insulin more closely mimics the body’s use of insulin. Three or more insulin injections per day have been shown to improve blood sugar levels. Consult your doctor to know the appropriate treatment that’s right for you.


  • Insulin pump – This is a device worn outside the body. A tube connects the insulin reservoir to a catheter which is inserted under the skin of the abdomen. A person can wear an insulin pump in different ways – as a waistband, in your pocket, or with pump belts.


Insulin pumps dispense a specific amount of rapid-acting insulin automatically. This dose of insulin is known as the basal rate, which replaces the long-acting insulin a person is using.


This is how it works. When you eat, you program the insulin pump with the amount of carbohydrates you are eating and your current blood sugar. It will then give a “bolus” dose of insulin, taking into account your meal and correct your blood sugar if it elevated. A number of studies show that for some people, an insulin pump can be more effective than injections in controlling blood sugar levels. However, many people still achieve good results by using injections.


Blood Sugar Monitoring


Regular blood sugar monitoring should be done to ensure that the blood sugar level remains within the target range. A person with the disease needs to check (and record) blood sugar levels at least four times a day by using a glucose meter. The American Diabetes Association recommends testing to be done before meals (including snacks), before going to bed, before driving or exercising, and when you suspect that you have low blood sugar.


The amount of sugar in the blood can change unpredictably, even if you eat on a rigid schedule and take insulin. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how your blood sugar level responds to food, medications, physical activity, and stress.


Healthy Eating


To help control diabetes, it’s important to eat a nutritious, low-fat, and high-fiber foods. That means you need to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eat less meat, refined carbohydrates, and sweets.


A dietitian can help you make a meal plan and teach you how to calculate the carbohydrates in the foods that you eat. This is crucial in people with type 1 diabetes.


Physical Activity


Consult a doctor first before deciding on an exercise routine. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, start doing physical activities/exercises slowly and build up gradually. As time passes by, you can increase it to at least 30 minutes of exercise in a day.


Physical activity lowers blood sugar long after you are done working out. If you are starting a new activity, remember to check your blood sugar level more often so that you’ll know how the activity affects your blood sugar. Based on that, you may need to adjust your insulin doses or meal plan to compensate for the increased activity.




With proper diabetes management, people with type 1 diabetes can live nearly normal lives. Having the right knowledge, discipline and support system from members of the family will go a long way in keeping diabetes under control. Consult a doctor or an endocrinologist if you have any questions or concerns regarding your condition.




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